This post was authored by Tim Green, manager of commissioning services at Endress+Hauser and formerly U.S. operations manager for the field services division at MAVERICK Technologies, a Rockwell Automation company. This is part two of a two-part series. To read the first post in this series, click this link.

In my previous post, I talked about project pitfalls, and now we’ll consider how to avoid issues that can put your project behind schedule and over budget. Your projects can be managed skillfully so they get completed on time, on budget, and fulfill performance expectations.

Everything depends on having the right kind of planning, done early enough to make a difference, followed by people who know how to drive projects. This combination can bring your projects to fruition on time and on budget.

The first and most critical step is to bring the right resources into the startup team as early as possible. This group should include a variety of people, both employees and contractors, from all functional areas of the plant, along with representation from all major construction trades. Good ideas can come from any direction, and engaging people who will need to use the project management tools being created insures they will get what they need, and also creates a sense of participation and ownership in the process.

A good way to create such a team and assign proper responsibilities is to use a RACI matrix to document clearly who is responsible for each task throughout the project. This keeps everyone focused on the right things as they have a clear awareness of their part in the overall project.

Eventually a project moves from planning to construction. Such work may involve bulldozers and pouring concrete, or it may be less visible improvements to automation systems. Either way, construction and related project activities of any kind have to be actively managed to keep things on course and on schedule. Why do schedules get off track? Too many companies look at construction as a black box. They understand it begins and ends, but there is little sense of what goes on in the middle. Without people who can dive in and get a grip on each project task, companies feel helpless to drive or even manage the process.

For example, when all the contractors are done, a long period of testing begins, only to discover there are electrical system problems, but the electrical contractor finished and moved out six weeks ago. Plant personnel end up fixing the problems using internal time and resources because it is too difficult and expensive to pull the contractor back. Time and money are both lost in the process.

A much better method is to take a divide-and-conquer approach. The construction timeline needs to be broken into subsections so each can be managed and tested along the way. Accomplishing project tasks simultaneously instead of sequentially will make the schedule collapse on itself and reduce the overall project time. Testing has to happen at each step along the way to ensure every installed item is functioning properly.

Few companies realize the benefits of this approach until they see it firsthand. This process of moving “heel to toe” and integrating construction with testing drives the schedule and keeps everyone, employees and contractors, focused. There is nothing desirable about waiting until all parts are finished to begin testing.

Automation solutions providers regularly perform project management, startup and commissioning work—so the level of experience and technical skill at your disposal is significant. When these types of experienced project professionals participate in project planning, construction management and testing, you receive the highest assurance the project will meet all performance expectations, will conclude on schedule, and will be at or under budget. The costs of such services are typically recovered quickly through improved performance and increased production realized through an earlier startup.

About the Author
Tim Green is manager of commissioning services at Endress+Hauser and formerly U.S. operations manager for the field services division at MAVERICK Technologies. Previously, he worked at a Fortune 100 automation provider where he had held positions at the North American and global levels. Tim began working in the electrical field in the U.S. Navy in San Diego, Calif. During his career he has worked as an industrial electrician, instrument technician, PLC programmer, engineering manager, and technical sales professional.

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