Ten Steps To Greater Project Success

January 2011 Vol. 238 No. 1

Tim Lajiness, PE and Dale Feldhaus, SSOE Group

Every project starts off with good intentions: 1) all stakeholders will be pleased with the results, 2) It will be on time, 3) within budget, 4) meet all the requirements of the job, and 5) function trouble-free.

An entire project team of professionals can agree on these goals and yet, too often it does not work out that way. People get distracted by competing project demands, make mistakes, nature intervenes, equipment failures and so on. The lesson here is that it is critical to control what can be controlled, so when the inevitable glitches come along, you are not out of time, out of money in the budget and out of options.

Achieving total project success is elusive in most types of engineering projects, from designing a new industrial/chemical process to developing new software. The Standish Group surveyed hundreds of IT professionals who are responsible for thousands of development projects. The findings as reported in its 2009 Chaos Report “show a marked decrease in project success rates, with 32% of all projects…delivered on time, on budget, with required features and functions” says Jim Johnson, the Group’s chairman. “44%…are late, over budget and/or with less than the required features and functions and 24% failed which are cancelled prior to completion, or delivered and never used.” Although the stats vary depending on what is being designed, study after study cites similar reasons for poor outcomes.

Projects are more likely to fail in the beginning than in the end. A lack of focus on and definition of the project goals and integration requirements are often to blame. By the time the control system integrator is awarded the job, if the appropriate sequence of steps has not been completed, or has been completed poorly by the process engineering team, the probability of success is greatly diminished.

The remedy is to have all team members follow an orderly sequence of defined tasks. On paper, these seem easy enough and intuitive to an experienced team of professionals. But often, in a rush to “get things going,” design work is initiated before there is a clear understanding of what is wanted and expected. The result is a poorly organized project that can be derailed at any point.

Pipeline Example
Using a pipeline and gas project as an example, a fully integrated project approach requires that the client, the process engineering team and the systems integrators all buy into and take ownership of these sequential steps:

1. Define project goals
2. Develop project scope and schedule
3. Establish a multi-discipline project team
4. Define the mechanical process (P&IDs/PFDs)
5. Develop functional process and process controls descriptions
6. Develop process controls network configuration drawing(s)
7. Develop vendor equipment specifications that include control system and programming requirements
8. Develop cost estimates
9. Make go/no-go decision
10. Start detail design

The level of effort to complete these steps is a function of the project’s size, complexity and associated risks. Steps should be tailored to match those variables. Conscientiously completing these steps will maximize the probability of project success while helping limit, and ultimately eliminate, cost overruns and rework.

We’ve pointed out a few of the common “errors and omissions” that project teams are susceptible to at each phase and offered keys to achieving a tightly orchestrated project.

First Task
Define the project goals. Clients are responsible for this first task. They understand what business objective they want this project to satisfy, but they may feel it is unnecessary to share that high level information with the project manager(s). In fact, the project goals should be the roadmap to achieving their overall objective. If clients establish a detailed definition of the project goals, the team can construct a plan to meet them.

Key to success: Develop a Project Charter. This should define the target market, financial goals, project financing, expected return on investment, plant capacity, production requirements, quality requirements, project risks/threats, site selection criteria etc. The client should reconcile any conflicting goals before they are communicated to the team. The goals will reflect whether time, budget, or quality are of highest priority and this information is critical to establishing the scope and schedule. Avoid moving ahead with the project if the goals are unrealistic or incomplete.

Second Task
Develop the project scope, budget and schedule. These elements should closely align with project goals. The client may collaborate with an outside resource or elect to use an in-house team to develop them in advance of sending out the RFP.

Key to success: Clearly define the project scope including deliverables, budgets and schedule. Clarify responsibilities of the owner, engineering firm, any sub-consultants and major equipment vendors. The schedule should be a coordinated execution plan involving the various resources and disciplines that will be working together. Don’t accept a list of milestones as a project schedule. The targeted return on investment (ROI) for a typical pipeline project should allow the capital expenditure to be recovered in approximately two years. Most important is that the scope and all deliverables be thoroughly and clearly defined. Avoid the tendency to shortcut this step in an effort to condense the planning phase.

Third Task
Establish a multi-disciplined project team. The client may assign responsibility for this to the process engineering firm they hired to be the lead on the project. All stakeholders should be represented with responsibilities assigned.

Keys to success: If the client’s own staff will have critical project responsibilities, it is vital that the client assigns enough manpower and the right caliber of people to do the job. Communicate to the client the importance of having a consistent team so he/she avoids replacing key team members for the duration of the project. Lay out the responsibilities of each team member and inform them of how, when and with whom they will communicate important information.

Fourth Task
Define the mechanical process.

Keys to success: Take ample time to fully develop a detailed definition of the process including P&IDs and/or PFDs and associated material and energy balances before progressing to detailed design. This effort has a tremendous impact on detail design activities and final construction deliverables. Attempting to develop very detailed construction deliverables based on a process that is ill conceived, ill defined, or constantly changing, places all disciplines at risk for multiple revisions and will likely result in quality issues. Develop a general site plan with equipment layouts including a hazardous area classification map. The owner should review and sign-off on P&IDs and/or PFDs prior to the beginning of detailed design.

Fifth Task
Develop functional process and process controls descriptions. P&IDs/PFDs alone cannot adequately describe the process or the process controls. A narrative or process description is needed to convey startup and shutdown sequencing, normal operation scenarios, modes and states and operational philosophy including planned operational and maintenance staffing.

Keys to success: A well-written functional process and controls description should be utilized during HAZOP review and is the basis for detail software requirements and development.

Sixth Task
Develop process controls network configuration drawing(s).

Keys to success: Identify network topologies and protocols, hardware, software and media requirements. Clearly define owner, consultant and equipment vendor responsibilities.

Seventh Task
Develop vendor equipment specifications that include control system and programming requirements. Vendor-supplied equipment with its own vendor-supplied controls systems must be designed to seamlessly integrate into the process and process control system. If off-the-shelf equipment was included as part of the project scope, then the engineers will specify the equipment, assist with soliciting bids from the client’s approved vendor list, prepare a bid evaluation and present a recommendation. A majority of the time, the client will then purchase the equipment directly.

Keys to success: Identify long lead items. Check availability of the equipment as early in the project as possible and determine when it should be ordered within the project schedule. Whenever possible, the project schedule should add time for long lead items above what the suppliers have stated.

Eighth Task
Develop costs estimates based on information gathered from previous steps. Cost estimates are needed to ensure the project will meet the owner’s financial goals. The estimates should include equipment costs, construction costs, engineering design fee, client contingencies and operational costs

Ninth Task
Make Go/No-Go decision. The owner should review and agree to the developed design basis and cost estimates before the beginning of detailed design.

Tenth Task
Start Detail Design. Start multidiscipline detail design: mechanical process, process piping, architectural, facilities, structural, civil, electrical power, process instrumentation, controls and control system integrators, etc.

Keys to success: With the process well-defined, all disciplines will have all of the information they need to start detail design activities with minimal risk of redesign and errors.

And One More Task
Hold your ground. Following all these steps will not prohibit the client from changing the scope of the project midstream. And it is tempting to be the supportive, agreeable engineering firm that wants to do whatever the client needs. It is in the best interest of all for the project manager to inform the client that the request represents a change in scope and calculate the cost and schedule implications prior to beginning the modifications to the deliverables.

If your projects fall short of their goals, it may be time to fine-tune the planning stage. The best engineering solutions diminish in value if they are developed in the context of a mismanaged project.

Tim Lajiness, PE, is a business leader and senior project manager at SSOE Group, an international engineering, procurement and construction management firm headquartered in Toledo, OH. He has more than two decades of experience in engineering consulting, construction and design, OEM design and manufacturing and government services. His key expertise lies in a variety of areas in the power generation and natural gas industry. He can be reached at 419-255-3830 or TLajiness@SSOE.com.

Dale Feldhaus is a department manager at SSOE Group with 23 years of experience. He is responsible for design, specification and coordination of the controls and instrumentation for projects. He also coaches, coordinates, facilitates and supervises the section manager and department staff. He can be reached at 419-255-3830 or DFeldhaus@SSOE.com.