Interview with Mr. David Lanning, Butler National Corporation

About Butler National Corporation

Butler National Corporation was established in 1968 through the merger of an aviation research firm owned by the Butler family and National Connector Corporation. The aircraft modification segment, Avcon, modifies business and cargo type aircraft at the Butler facility in Newton, Kansas. The modifications include aircraft conversion from passenger to freighter configuration, addition of aerial photography capability, stability enhancing modifications for Learjets, and other special mission modifications. Avcon offers customer specialty modifications on an individual basis. Regular customers include Learjet, Inc., Flight International, Inc., Cessna Aircraft, Beech Aircraft (Raytheon), Boeing, NASA, the United States Air Force, Hawker Pacific, Continental Airlines, and numerous other governments. With multiple, complex engineering tasks running at once, Principal Engineer David Lanning needs to carefully manage his human resources to meet tight deadlines while ensuring the highest level of quality control.

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Tell us about you and your business

I work for Butler’s Avcon division that modifies existing aircraft for special purposes, such as turning a standard plane into an air ambulance. We also do a lot of custom work and develop specific products to improve existing aircraft. I’m the principal engineer and also manage computer systems. I’ve been in the aviation business for 25 years and with Butler for the past year. I’ve got 10 years of experience in project management.

How many people are on your team and how many projects are you working on now?

We have five mechanical/structural engineers and one electrical engineer, all working on multiple projects. Right now, we have 21 active projects with four more in the bidding stage.

How did you get involved in project management initially?

I began with Sciforma tools at Honeywell. My manager there was using them for critical chain applications. When I came here, I saw we needed to do things differently and recommended we go with Sciforma.

Was it difficult to get management buy-in?

I’ve purchased a lot of expensive software in the past 25 years, and I have to say that the way Sciforma sells and supports its products, the demos and personal attention you give customers was huge. I could never have convinced the company to go with Sciforma without showing them real benefits, and you guys made it easy; in fact, we used the demo to do a couple of trial projects, and everyone could see the value immediately. Since then, it’s only gotten better. Our accountant told me that in the first six months we’ve used Sciforma, the software has paid for itself 10 times over!

How were you doing project management before?

We were filling out time cards and manually entering data into spreadsheets. We couldn’t track time by project and we didn’t have any historical data to see how long things were actually taking. There is no way we could go back to that system now. We looked at other project management software before going with Sciforma, but it was no contest. Of all the tools we saw, the Sciforma solution was the most professional, polished, and solid product by far.

Was it difficult to make the switch to Sciforma?

It wasn’t hard at all. Sciforma helped us with some custom reports and we’ve done others since. We have 10 people using it now with no problems. Management likes getting updates that let them get a clear sense of how we’re doing on projects and how resources are being managed.

How is it helping your business?

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Customers want to know their projects are being managed well. Having real data in a readily accessible format lets us know exactly where things stand on the timeline. We also have a huge central database that was unwieldy before, but now that everyone is working with the same data source we can see what people are scheduled for, how many engineers are needed, etc. It’s allowing us to be as efficient as possible.

What features are particularly helpful?

We’re not doing enough of it now, but I believe the collaboration features will really help us tie mission-critical issues to specific projects. It would be extremely helpful to keep all those items and notes in one place, available to the whole organization. One great benefit is that it’s made our weekly engineering meetings much more productive because now we can go right down the line and prioritize our human resources quickly and easily.

What are your plans for expanding the role of Sciforma at Avcon?

I’d like to include more than engineering resources, integrate it with the production floor and costs. This will further enhance our efficiency and ability to track and meet tight deadlines. We do a lot of government work, and they pay very close attention to our progress, so this will be a big help in that area.

What would your job be like without Sciforma?

We’d have a lot more frustration! When things are late, management gets annoyed. Now that things are so much easier to track and manage, we’ve considerably lowered our stress level. To get the best use out of this type of tool it’s essential to centralize data, which often comes from several sources. It is not always easy to obtain this type of centralization, but Sciforma is a simple tool to configure and its implementation was facilitated by the fact that the prototype was really adapted to our everyday requirements.

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