One of the larger tasks from the Aerospace Engineering Management module involved forming another group, this time with the objective to produce supporting documentation in readiness for bidding on a maintenance contract for the university’s Harrier T4, XW270.  Everybody was informed the afternoon before the activity began that it was up to each group to ensure only 2 members attended any laboratory session at a time, starting 9 a.m. the following day. This kicking into action a very proactive member of the team meant that within about 10 minutes a group chat had been set up on Facebook and a full debate was in swing between the newly combined members.

Initially, I had opted, alongside another member, to attend first thing the next day in an attempt to ‘get things out of the way’, as a proactive approach to handling the workload we were already managing, and in good preparation for the work about to be added to the pile. After being informed that the first two members to attend the lab would be assigned overall responsibility for the task as team leaders, we discussed amongst ourselves the suitability of each other for that role. Taking into consideration the existing responsibilities of some members such as myself for other group tasks, we all agreed between ourselves the two members expected to attend.

The following day, as the task was set out before the team leaders, we were being streamed information to the group chat as and when areas of the task were revealed and explained by the module staff. Ultimately, I think this was a fair tactic as it allowed the task to be summarised by all the members of the group, however, it did also lend itself easily to confusion and misinterpretation from those of us not present as the information was received. If it was myself there that morning it’s hard to say if I would have initiated the work in the same manner, but with such a seemingly enthusiastic and well-meaning group of individuals assembled for the task, it’s highly possible I would have acted in the same manner. I do now feel that perhaps should a similar situation occur in the future with myself, I would be best served gathering all the facts and defining the key objectives before attempting to assign roles and tasks.

Knowing at this point that the task was to raise and lower the Harrier into its rigging position, going forward the team leaders decided that they would conduct the risk assessments for the task and the next pair to attend the lab would be tasked with providing any relevant COSHH forms and making a start on the Scheduled Maintenance Procedure (SMP) document. My lab partner and I were asked therefore to complete whatever work was left and ready the compilation of all the relevant documentation. On attending the lab at our allotted time over a week after having been provided with the task, my lab partner and I felt it was best to reconfirm the objectives and relevant activities. We came to realise that the objectives set out by the leaders were not the entirety of the task, especially as no physical inspection had been undertaken on the Harrier leading to missing information.

To address the shortfall, my lab partner and I spent our time examining the relevant Harrier Air Publication which outlines the procedures and necessary equipment, as well as speaking to the supervising technical skills instructor, an ex-RAF engineer with experience on the Harrier. Doing so amongst other things highlighted the need to fabricate a component required for the process, namely the levelling bars. Having communicated our concerns to the rest of the team it was arranged for us to all meet to discuss the work. As my lab partner had a prior engagement it fell to me to brief the rest of the team regarding the developments in task appreciation and to ensure everyone was suitably up to speed. After answering queries, checking the understanding of new elements identified by myself and my colleague, and the preliminary design and dimensions of the levelling bars, the appointed leaders set about issuing and confirming task allocation where myself and my lab partner were asked to create the SMP. Scheduled Maintenance Procedures are vital documents from a human factors standpoint. Knowing full well that a mistake made in aircraft maintenance could cost the business its airframe at the least and lives at worst, it becomes necessary to ensure the highest standard of workmanship is adopted by outlining the tasks required logically and in detail. SMPs are therefore routinely used in both service and civilian life as they remain a very simple and effective barrier to latent errors often found in human factors related incidents.

Agreeing between us to split the SMP in two, I acquired the template provided to us by the module leader and set about completing the first half. After completing this work well ahead of time I passed it on to my colleague and waited for confirmation the task was done. Knowing that the deadline for this task was fast approaching by the first week of the Easter study break, I got in touch with my colleague to remind him of the approaching deadline and asked if there was any way I could assist. A little while later the document was finished and uploaded for me to proof-read before we informed the rest of the group we were done. After minor tweaks, we both agreed our task was complete and informed the rest of the team. At this point I went about creating the compilation document, setting out suggested headings and a loose format with our completed work in place. I then uploaded this content to a shared drive created by the group leaders on day 1 and reminded the team of the approaching deadline and the work I had completed as a means of motivation. Over the remainder of the week, the template I had provided was populated and amendments made as necessary. When all the information was collated together a final format was produced and the document uploaded for submission, a copy of which can be seen here: Group D1 SMP.

This particular task built upon my teamwork and effective communications skills, the latter most especially useful when you’re the only person available to pass on the information that your audience requires. In industry when you may be the inter-department liaison, or simply the sole individual working on a particular task, having highly effective communication skills is a must; I feel during this project they were well tested and further honed multiple times through genuine application. No one person thinks perfectly the same as another, therefore the ability to ask questions proved crucial in understanding how effectively the information was being received. To some, this may sound counter-intuitive however if you can understand how well you yourself are being understood by checking the understanding through questions it offers the opportunity to change tack and redefine key points as necessary.

Finally, a good consideration of boundaries with acceptable actions was required throughout this task. Most likely occurring due to a difference in leadership styles, it would have been easy at points for me to overextend myself and inappropriately start taking charge when I felt motivation or direction was missing. Instead, I identified this weakness and worked on acting appropriately within my remit as a subordinate by making sure that any motivation or guidance was generalised, and at times highlighted decisions were not mine to be made passing the focus back to the leaders so as not to undermine their position. Having occupied positions in retail at a managerial level, as well as currently working in a position where I must often define the work required and ‘call the shots’ for myself, means when thrown into situations like this I tend to inadvertently enter into a power struggle when the leadership style is different to that of my own. Being aware of this weakness, and working to improve my ability to be lead whilst bringing to the team useful leadership qualities, such as motivation, is a key lesson I have found constructive during this module, and I hope going forward I will continue to develop the ability to comfortably take a back seat whilst acting in a supportive capacity.

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