I’ve been spending some time getting up to speed on how heavy industrial projects work. Coming from the aerospace sector, it has been an interesting study with many obvious parallels and similar challenges.
During the Alberta Energy sector’s sunnier days, the Construction Owners Association of Alberta (COAA) developed robust and proven ‘Advanced Workface Planning’ approaches to address chronic schedule and cost over runs of mega projects. The aerospace sector is not immune – the Boeing 787 program had similar delay and cost over runs due to:
- Supply chain issues
- Late deliverables from software engineering
- Engineering design deficiencies
- Incomplete documentation from overseas contractors
- Incorrect assembly
- A machinists strike
The first flight slipped by more than 2 years and substantial compensation payouts were made to early buyers.
A new heavy industrial project (a plant let’s say) is broken down into Construction Work Areas (CWAs) – a geographic cube of logically associated work for all disciplines. Each CWA is then broken up into discipline specific Construction Work Packages (CWPs) that further spawn Field Installation Work Packages (FIWPs).
The COAA suggests limiting the construction work associated with each to 100K hrs, 40K hrs and 1K hrs for CWAs, CWPs and FIWPs respectively. They also recommend that each CWP be related to a single Engineering Work Package (EWP – the engineering information that is required by the workface to execute each CWP). The information provided in each EWP will be used to build out the all the FIWPs spawned from each CWP.
The result is a construction centric Work Breakdown Structure one branch of which is shown below:
Even if the project is small and has only one CWA, there could be as many as 5 CWP/EWPs, 200 FIWPs and far north of 1,000 engineering deliverables (models, drawings, specs and more). The COAA recommends that all engineering information related to all EWPs be released (IFC – Issued for Construction) 120 days prior to build. Aerospace or heavy industrial - bad things will happen to project budgets and schedules if engineering is late. If engineering remains stuck on 95% for weeks, they lose credibility and trust - see my blog Work Package Delays - Is Engineering Lying? for more.
I used to be an engineering manager at an aerospace company that had a primitive project information environment – shared network drives, email and spreadsheets. With this primitive tool set, it was a daily struggle to track and report on engineering deliverables. At the time, we did not apply any Rules of Credit and many deliverables would get stuck on 95% complete when, in reality, they were probably only 60% complete (see my blog How to Improve Engineering Project Control where I talk about earned value, rules of credit and Cost Performance Index). Why the gap? I think there are two main reasons – people are generally optimistic and prefer to avoid conflict. Regardless, it was a real struggle for everyone at all levels to quickly verify engineering deliverable status and track real progress.
I think heavy industry projects have exactly the same struggles. Engineering Work Package progress can’t be measured unless the constituent engineering deliverables can be tracked and verified along their path to IFC. Ideally, this could be achieved if everyone was working in an advanced and unified information environment and could see (in real time) the status of ALL engineering deliverables for the project and how they are tied into all CWPs and FIWPs. If this can be achieved:
- Engineering Managers could take early action to keep EWPs on track (or revise planned release dates if delays are inevitable)
- Planners could develop and progressively evolve CWPs and FIWPs (along with scheduled release dates) as engineering deliverables are maturing
- People, equipment, scaffolding, materials (and the right version of the engineering information) would be in place at the workface at the right time