In my last blog post entitled ”Operational Readiness and Commissioning Plans: the Key to a Successful Start”, we looked at how BBA gets started with creating an operational readiness and commissioning plan that includes the following seven steps:
- Operational readiness definition
- Operational readiness controls
- Operational readiness
- Preparation of pre-operational verifications (POVs) and commissioning
- Plant operation and production ramp-up
When defining a project’s operational readiness and commissioning plan, we look at comparable projects and then produce a high-level outline of the various steps that will be required. The idea is to produce a preliminary schedule that covers the main project milestones leading up to the attainment of nominal production and to establish a preliminary organizational structure that identifies the main persons responsible for the plan.
Of course, choosing the right operational readiness and commissioning manager is essential to the plan’s success. In addition to acting as the liaison between the project team and the future operations team, he or she will ensure that the various tasks outlined in the plan are completed on time using the budgeted personnel and materials.
Operational readiness controls
Successfully managing projects, including operational readiness and commissioning initiatives, always involves careful consideration of three key constraints: scope, time and cost. This is known as the project management triangle:
But all projects are subject to changes that can affect scope, schedule or costs, in addition to risks and potential conflicts. Risks, conflicts and changes are inevitable and must be a priority concern for operational readiness and commissioning managers, as shown in the following diagram:
In theory, all major projects should be led by a seasoned project control team that:
- Is able to anticipate changes, risks and conflicts.
- Can determine the source of problems and recommend corrective actions.
- Has the authority to seek required approvals.
This team will play a crucial role in balancing the various project goals, a task that requires constant vigilance. If a project does not have a skilled leadership team, one or several project control specialists should be brought in.
Executing an operational readiness and commissioning plan is a process that requires the same level of rigorous control as the rest of the project. Ideally, this task should be assigned to the control team. If this is not possible, additional funds must be set aside to ensure that the operational readiness team has the right people and programs to perform effective controls.
The following activities must be carried out to support the definition of operational readiness control references:
- Prepare a schedule using planning software. Include all activities for upcoming phases (steps 3 to 7):
- Operational readiness
- Prepare the pre-operational verification and commissioning plans
- Execute the pre-operational verification and commissioning plans
- Start-up and ramp-up
- Plan personnel mobilization
- List material resources and provide estimates
- Prepare the project control budget
Project control processes must be established. To effectively define these processes, it is important to:
- Determine approval levels for financial commitments.
- Clarify which methodology will be used to identify changes and their scope, cost and impacts on the schedule.
- Obtain necessary approvals before authorizing changes.
- Add changes to the project control references.
Specialized project cost control software is needed to control references, establish projections and track the project budget. This type of software allows you to compare recent projections with those used for the budget from the execution phase through to the scheduled completion. It also lets you make adjustments to prevent cost overruns. General accounting programs shouldn’t be used to control project costs.
Various tasks must be carried out during the operational readiness and commissioning phases to collect information and update control tools. These tasks should be done at regular intervals (typically once a month) to make sure planned activities (i.e., the established scope) are being completed on time and on budget. Specifically, these tasks include:
- Tracking progress of operational readiness and commissioning activities (steps 3 to 7 of the plan)
- Collecting information on incurred costs
- Reviewing the schedule to identify which activities are late and establish new projections
- Updating the information in the cost control program
- Updating the schedule in the planning tool
We recommend using a tracking tool that details the various steps in the operational readiness and commissioning plan so that you can evaluate activity progress based on weighted criteria. The criteria used for establishing progress may be the costs incurred for tasks or the production of deliverables.
Effective communication is essential for project success in all fields, and project teams that communicate well tend to produce better results. There are many different ways to share information, but formal progress reports are particularly useful for operational readiness and commissioning. These reports cover the various activities included in the plan.
First, it is important to establish key performance indicators and choose dashboards for use in presentations and monthly progress reports. These reports outline the work carried out in the past month and the anticipated targets for the upcoming month. Typically, progress reports contain the following sections:
- Executive summary with the month’s highlights
- Health and safety
- Project milestones and schedule
- Engineering activities
- Procurement activities
- Construction activities
- Operational readiness and commissioning activities
- Problems and concerns
Operational readiness and commissioning activities often impact other sections of monthly progress reports. This makes it doubly important to accurately provide the information requested by the project control team.
Investors don’t like surprises and prefer predictable organizations that deliver projects on time, on budget and with the right scope for their goals. As a result, project execution capabilities are becoming an increasingly important factor in an organization’s risk profile.
My next blog post will look at risk management and document management, two other important factors for a successful operational readiness and commissioning plan.
SYLVAIN BOILY, P. Eng., MBA, PMP, is Project Manager - Operational Readiness and Commissioning