Over the past five years, we have had the opportunity to review summary benchmarking data from more than 100 automation projects. This benchmarking effort, conducted by coauthor Dave Adler, includes everything from detailed cost analysis to the opinions of company management about their automation systems. This benchmarking research reveals that the top three measurement criteria for project success are scope, schedule, and budget – and that less than 20 percent of projects were actually able to achieve their goals in all three areas. That means that, according to the research, when a company decides to embark on an automation project, there is an 80 percent chance it will fail to do what the company intended, be delivered later than expected, or cost more than expected. A sobering thought to say the least.
Why are automation projects so challenging? The typical automation system is complex and includes a wide array of technologies, including field instrumentation, computer system hardware, software applications, and data management. It is difficult to master one component of automation technology in a lifetime, much less become an expert on all the diverse and rapidly evolving technologies needed to control manufacturing facilities today. The lead automation engineer is usually assigned to manage automation projects, but the skills required for project success are significantly wider than technical expertise. The skills of planning, organizing, motivating, and managing resources are needed just as much as deep technical expertise on an automation project. The proven way to improve the automation team’s odds of success is to use project management tools and processes.
The benchmarking research also reveals that successful automation projects have common characteristics: good upfront planning, strong support from operations leaders during implementation, an understanding of the work processes, the ability to define key user requirements, schedule and budget management, deliverable and key project event monitoring, and the skilled automation professionals required to start up and execute the project. Understanding and adapting traditional project management tools and approaches to automation is the only way to ensure these characteristics are all delivered. In this article, we will discuss these three measurement criteria for project success and ways to achieve the project goals.
Creating a robust scope
Scope requires understanding the manufacturing process, anticipating future operation needs, and defining good workable automation solutions. The drivers for scope include project objectives, operational needs, long-term maintenance requirements, safety, and quality. The first step in developing a scope is to understand the business drivers and justification for the investment in automation. The next step is the automation philosophy. It includes the operational intent, long-term support strategy, quality and regulatory requirements, safety approach, and information management practices. The final step in scope is developing requirements. These requirements include instrumentation, wiring, panels, computer system platform, automation software, information management, validation, and the operational user requirements. The user requirements will detail how the operation personnel will use the automation system to control the manufacturing equipment. The requirements will clearly specify what the automation team must deliver. The scope document also clearly defines those items that are out of scope. Determining the boundaries is critical for a robust scope. The scope does not include the method to deliver the automation solution, or its cost and schedule. The automation team will define these later.