In reviewing white papers, articles, and best practices from the various turnaround improvement experts, one thing has become rather obvious—the paradigm has not shifted much in recent years. Rather than continuing to push the envelope, it seems much of the innovation has been focused on how to re-market the envelope with new spins on old tricks. While it is true that we need to keep stressing the base fundamentals (and master them), we also need to introduce new fundamentals and make new inroads to savings, safety, and efficiencies.
By now, we have pretty well memorized the mantra surrounding tar complexity, scope, risk, capital integration, materials, logistics, contracting strategy, labor market strategy, long-term planning strategy, and so on. The case studies continue to tell us the same thing: the “experts” are still missing the mark significantly.
Frankly, when the experts talk about the three most influential characteristics of turnaround predictability being the number of direct labor hours, the amount of capital work, and the interval between turnarounds, they are missing some important data points. When it comes to what we can exploit next in order to keep pushing the envelope, I gravitate toward the concept that ‘the earlier we intervene in the process, the greater the impact of that intervention.’ Any navigator would concur that a one-degree course change a mile into the journey has far more impact than a one-degree course change farther down the road.
The industry has recognized that utilizing a gated front end loading (FEL) process is best practice because it affords an opportunity for early impact on the outcome. But what the industry has not done is take complete advantage of the FEL process. For instance, the FEL schedule is often a spreadsheet rather than a logic-driven, resource-loaded schedule built in an enterprise scheduling tool. And often, when the FEL schedule is built properly, it is a separate schedule from the execution schedule, rather than being integrated with the execution schedule and allowed to push out the execution date if obligations are not satisfied in a timely manner. It should not be optional—the FEL schedule and the execution schedule should both be tied to the same critical path. If the impact to execution dates were captured and reported properly, it automatically would drive earlier intervention and better team alignment. FEL scheduling and reporting are often not as vigorous as they need to be because we can save a few dollars by not engaging schedulers earlier in the process, but in reality we likely are being penny wise and pound foolish. When FEL scheduling and reporting are handled properly, it compels essential stakeholders to involve themselves in the turnaround process earlier and more fully, thus improving the quality of the turnaround.
Another opportunity in the current state of the industry regarding early intervention is that we need an objective measurement for the early assessment of our project controls personnel in the office. Waiting for a readiness review to inform us on whether our planning, scheduling, or cost effort is succeeding is far too late in the game. For decades, we have done time-on-tool studies and measured field productivity, but have little or no objective data on how effective our project controllers in the office are. Can you objectively evaluate how productive each of your planners is in relation to his or her peers? Can you objectively assess which planners are overloaded and which planners are not assigned a completely full load? Can you objectively forecast with accuracy and confidence when the planning phase will be completed? These are critical issues, but still foggy ones for most turnaround managers. This is where we must push the envelope and make new gains. The concept of early intervention must be applied to the project controllers in the office just as much as it applies to everything else. This has been ignored for too long. When we get this piece right, along with having a more dynamic FEL process, we will see the industry paradigm beginning to shift again to new highs.