An Ex-NASA Planning and Scheduling Professional Leverages AKWIRE
Few – if any – children dream of becoming a software trainer when they grow up. But for perpetually positive and self-proclaimed thrill-seeker Shannon Smith, her career in Planning and Scheduling in the field and as a trainer has been a dream come true.
She has supported rocket launches on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), assisted with launch activities for the Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) Space Shuttle, and worked on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), designed to carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. And now, she travels across the country bringing friendly advice and expert best practices to clients who are so ready to simplify their Planning and Scheduling processes.
Jumping into enterprise Planning and Scheduling
You could say that Shannon fell into Planning and Scheduling quite by accident. In August 2005, she started as an admin at the Air Force station at Cape Canaveral. It was a contract position and both she and her manager wanted to find her a permanent option. Her manager suggested that Shannon move to the Planning and Scheduling department where there was greater job security.
Moving into Planning and Scheduling was both intimidating and exciting; it was a completely new world for Shannon. But, she says, “I’m not someone who backs down from a challenge.” So, she dove in head first.
“It was a little like being thrown to the wolves,” Shannon laughs, remembering the huge learning curve. “I was responsible for six shops, including HVAC, plumbers, and Power Generation, to name a few.” The company was mandated by contract to perform to a specific set MATRIX of preventative and corrective maintenance, as well as emergency work orders.
I had to report on our monthly performance why those targets were or weren’t met – with such a tight work success requirement, tied directly to corporate incentives, our success depended heavily on a stringent, detailed schedule.
A quick learner, Shannon took to Planning and Scheduling like a fish in water; she loved making order out of chaos. It helped that she had a wonderful support team of colleagues and supervisors who wanted her to succeed and helped her learn. “We’d go through the backlog and they would teach me how to do it. It took time to learn how it all works, how it all flows.”
It was at the CCAFS that Shannon met Janna Kerr and Elliot Bonilla, who would later become her Solufy (Now Prometheus Group) colleagues – though they didn’t know that at the time. In 2009, they worked together to bring the AKWIRE Visual Suite for Maximo (Now part of Prometheus Planning & Scheduling) to the Air Force station.
Shannon on the Crawler, as it rolls away from the launch pad after a shuttle launch.
Gaining more functionality in IBM Maximo with AKWIRE
Says Shannon, “The Planning and Scheduling department, thankfully, was not on the Air Force server. So, we had more flexibility to bring on different tools and software to streamline the job.”
And when she says streamline, she really means it. Prior to implementing Prometheus, the team was downloading CSV files from Maximo and transferring them to Excel to create schedules for every shop. That’s multiple shops, multiple schedules, every day. “It was so incredibly time consuming!”
They liked the view in Maximo, but the Maximo scheduler’s limited functionality was holding them back. “It was hard to make last minute changes,” she recalls.
With AKWIRE, we kept the view we enjoyed working in, but gained the ability to make changes quickly, such as adding new people to work orders. With AKWIRE [Prometheus] on board, the process improved and productivity increased significantly.
Shannon only had a few months with Prometheus before moving to work at Kennedy Space Center. But, she stayed in touch with Janna and kept a pulse on how things were going with Prometheus Group.
A single mom of two daughters, Shannon spent much of her “down time” during those years shuffling her daughters between sports and other school activities. She was busy by day and busy by night – but that’s fine with Shannon. She loves her family – the extra work and long hours don’t matter. “It’s all part of being a working mother,” she says.
Shannon remembers the rush of working at the Air Force station; the multimillion dollar equipment, the skilled crews, the cutting-edge technology. “One time, a Russian aircraft (Antonov AN 225 – Mriya) flew in and unloaded a large rocket first stage segment at the station. It was awe-inspiring, watching everything in action. I’ll never forget it, next to the largest Cargo Aircraft in the world, Russian crew members everywhere, the crane crew operating with such precision and efficiency… it was exciting and absolutely amazing.”
Shannon even had the chance to drive the Crawler, a vehicle used to transport the Space Shuttle and now future Spacecraft to the launch pad. “It only goes about two or three miles an hour,” she laughs. “But I loved driving it. Definitely an experience I’ll always remember!”
Shannon at the steering wheel of the Crawler.
New Direction: Becoming a Prometheus Group Functional Consultant
In March 2017, the stars aligned.
The excitement of working at the Kennedy Space Center was wearing off. Shannon felt that she was ready to take on new challenges and put her experience to use in new ways.
Now that her children were grown and independent, it was the perfect time for her to join the Prometheus as a trainer. With her Planning and Scheduling background and her personal experience using AKWIRE, who better to teach others how to simplify their Planning and Scheduling?
Once an organization has implemented Prometheus, Shannon heads down to see them for a three-day training session. First, she meets with their Prometheus quarterback, and then she gets in front of their staff.
Sometimes the group is only a few people – sometimes it’s more than 20. “I absolutely love the job,” Shannon says. “I love travelling to meet clients, I love getting to know their teams. It’s never the same and it’s always a thrill. I’ve never been let down.”
Most of the people Shannon works with have never used Prometheus before other than maybe logging in. Some of them come to the training sessions with a healthy dose of skepticism. “There’s a sense of, ‘we’ve always done it this way, why would we change?’ at the start of some training sessions.
But then people see the power of the Prometheus software and it’s like a light bulb comes on.
“My job is to walk people through the software and show them what it does and what they can do with it. At first, some people feel uncertain. I show them that it’s still their data, it’s everything they’ve been working in – it’s still there. I show them where the data comes from, how it hits the tables. Because it’s so user-friendly, it doesn’t take long for it to click.”
She says watching that transition is one of the most satisfying parts of the job. “The difference between Day One and Day Three is incredible. Watching our clients go from cautious skepticism to being totally on board is amazing. When they see for themselves how AKWIRE [Prometheus] is going to make their jobs easier, they get excited.”
Once a Planner & Scheduler, always a Planner & Scheduler
With the software so easy to understand, Shannon often finds herself helping clients tackle their Planning and Scheduling challenges and implement best practices. Her background in Planning and Scheduling comes in handy for these discussions.
“I tell my classes, if you want to pick my brain, go for it,” Shannon says.
If our clients are dealing with concerns pertaining to Planning and Scheduling, I can literally walk them through the process and techniques I used in similar situations. It’s great collaboration.
Of course, no day out on the road is ever the same. Shannon’s been across the US, from Alabama to New York, and, just like in her Planning and Scheduling career, she has to expect the unexpected.
“I arrived in beautiful Ithaca, New York for a training session, and they were having server problems,” she recounts. “I felt deflated. Everyone was baffled by this computer problem and nobody knew what to do. But I just thought to myself, 'I can either crumble, or keep teaching.' So that’s what I did.”
She persisted, and by the end of the third day, her main contact came up to her, apologized profusely for the problems and told her she was “phenomenal.” When she’s thrown a curveball, Shannon’s positive energy and enthusiasm keep her going. “After all, the show must go on.”
Shannon’s move to Prometheus has been “a blessing.” In a way, she says, Prometheus is like a family. “I’m in Florida and as you know, the hurricane hit us here pretty badly. But everyone at the company has been so helpful and supportive. It’s such a wonderful thing to work for a company that truly cares and at the same time, I get to do what I love – spend time with wonderful people sharing my experience with Prometheus : a great product that I know will make a difference in their organization.”
When she’s not travelling to meet with clients, Shannon enjoys spending time with her family, catching rays on their boat or riding the motorcycle with her boyfriend. “Every day I feel grateful for the life I’m living, I am truly blessed beyond anything I could have ever imagined for my life. I love my career and can’t wait to see what the future has to offer.”
Shannon with her family at Thanksgiving.