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Overcome barriers to proper planning and scheduling

04.01.2013  |  Wanichko, J. ,  T.A. Cook Consultants Inc., Raleigh, North Carolina

Keywords: [maintenance] [software]

Planning and scheduling must work hand-in-hand for a turnaround, outage or shutdown to be executed to budget and schedule. Unless proper diligence is given up-front to planning and scheduling, no amount of execution excellence will recover the waste associated with unclear work plans, inflated estimates and poorly defined schedules.

Scheduling practices in use today are examined here, and the common pitfalls encountered in planning and scheduling are explored. Additionally, tips to avoid these pitfalls are provided.

Present scheduling practices

In a survey of European companies involved in conducting shutdowns, turnarounds and outages, 57% of the respondents did not have detailed, step-by-step procedures for creating a schedule, and they did not reuse schedules from previous events as a starting point when building a new schedule.

Building a schedule is considered the exclusive domain of the scheduler, and it is dependent upon each scheduler’s experience and knowledge. A surprising 26% of schedulers have built less than 10 schedules, and 45% of schedulers have learned scheduling “by doing it” (Figs. 1 and 2). When schedules are built, 77% are made either by hand or by importing data to create a new schedule. Only 23% of companies have an archive of schedule templates from previous events that they can modify to create a new schedule.

  Fig. 1. Scheduling experience and training. 


  Fig. 2. Level of scheduling training. 

However, on the positive side, the use of a schedule during execution shows that 54% of companies provide continuous feedback and updates to the schedule. Only 17% produce a schedule, hang it on the wall, and then never update it. A full 70% of schedules are updated either at the end of the shift or at least once per day.

Expectations of planning and scheduling

When beginning an event, it is important for all stakeholders involved to understand and agree to certain “ground rules” or expectations. For a schedule to be an accurate and useful tool, it requires the effective and timely interaction of planning, estimating, scheduling and operations departments, as well as the contractors working the job. If any one party is absent, the resulting schedule will not reflect the actual requirements of the event and will likely result in failure for the execution team.

There must also be a high degree of “information consistency” between all parties involved. Everyone must understand what the information requirements will be prior to and during the event, including but not limited to:

  • Timing of input
  • Frequency of updates
  • Information required (in what format and level of detail)
  • How estimates for schedule progression will be calculated
  • Who is responsible for providing these estimates.

It is best to build a communications matrix prior to the event and to include all information requirements/updates, involved parties, frequencies and templates/level of detail. This matrix should be reviewed with all stakeholders in a pre-event coordination meeting (Fig. 3).

  Fig. 3. Time of feedback (asked only if
  feedback is provided). 

Expectations for the planners are straightforward; walk down jobs and build complete work packages for each job as defined by the scope of the event. Ideally, the planner will have a library of work packages from the last time the turnaround was conducted and can update the old work package to current conditions.

The planner and the scheduler must agree on who will build contingency into work estimates and where this contingency will be located. This is primarily the scheduler’s responsibility, but both the planner and the scheduler must understand how the contingency will be managed.

The objective of the scheduler (with the support of planning, estimating, operations and contractors) is to build a single turnaround schedule that incorporates all planned activities for the turnaround, any capital project work being done during the event, and the operations department’s detailed shutdown and startup plans for the unit.

The first 24 hours of the shutdown plan must be detailed and include sequenced hour increments, identified dependencies and specific resource requirements for each activity. The scheduler will provide operations with a date by which the plan must be delivered in sufficient detail and accuracy to be incorporated into the overall turnaround schedule.

The schedule should be built with the goal of having a high degree of repeatability and sustainability to support its reuse in future events, with some updates and modifications, vs. rebuilding a schedule from scratch each time.

Present turnaround planning and scheduling

Increasingly, contractors are doing more planning and scheduling on behalf of the operators. While the contractors must bring expertise and knowledge of the tools, the operator cannot abdicate the leadership role to the contractor. It must be the operator who defines which scheduling IT tool will be used, what level of detail will be seen in the schedule by each functional group involved in the turnaround, how job progression to the schedule will be calculated and when updates will occur.

Note: Although more contractors are being used, some level of expertise must be retained in-house. This is necessary to ensure that specific knowledge remains with the operator to validate or challenge work estimates and plans built by contractors for accuracy. This knowledge will also enable effective coordination between operations and contractors.

Differences exist in the area of work estimation using standardized work values, resulting in inconsistent and inaccurate work plan estimates. North American operators rely more on “expert” judgment, so it is not uncommon for work estimates to be inflated by as much as 40%. Europe, on the other hand, uses standardized work component estimation, providing greater consistency and accuracy. Work estimates and plans should always be validated by a credible source prior to being entered into the schedule.

With the increased use of contractors, contracts and how they are structured play an increasingly important role in the success of any event. More precisely, integrated and comprehensive job evaluations allow for the introduction of modern contract types for contractors, reducing the need to push risk to the contractor.

Frequently, the objective of the contract is to create a win-win agreement for both the operator and contractor. Establishing a win-win contract allows the operator and the contractor to work together instead of against each other. Time and material contracts, favored in North America, drive contractors to integrate as many workers as possible into the turnaround. This creates an immediate conflict, as operators prefer to complete the turnaround with the minimum resources required in the shortest time possible. To prevent these types of conflicts, improved accuracy based on better advance estimates and planning is required.

There are three phases to the scheduling process:

  • The concept phase, which is the foundation for an effective and efficient schedule
  • The creation phase
  • The usage and update phase.

During the concept phase, several parameters should be defined: the schedule structure, standards for the schedule elements and progress feedback procedures, and schedule reporting during the execution phase. Once these parameters are defined, they must be communicated to operations, to the execution team and to the contractor team.

A precondition for the creation phase is that the scope must be defined, and the detailed technical planning results must be available. Many companies seem to ignore this precondition and then do not understand why the event’s schedule and budget are not met. In conjunction with scope management and cost control, scheduling forms the “magic triangle” of project management for turnarounds.

There must be flexibility in schedules to enable a quick and easy response to any changes that become necessary. Schedules should be reasonably flexible without sacrificing the necessary control mechanisms. Schedule flexibility is necessary because of unscheduled repair work, uncertainty about equipment availability and capacity, and logistical challenges and restrictions due to limited space in the plant.

The quality of the schedule is defined by scope freeze. The scope needs to be frozen and the schedule prepared using optimization techniques, ideally 12 months prior to the shutdown phase of the turnaround. Scope freeze begins with all stakeholders understanding and agreeing to the reason for the turnaround. Once the scope-freeze phase is finished, any suggested additions must be “challenged into the scope,” not out of it. A rigorous scope-management process should be well managed and based on a company’s defined risk-management processes.

The pitfalls of planning

Planning is the starting point, and the schedule can be no better than the items that go into it. With this point in mind, Table 1 reviews common planning pitfalls and recommendations for avoiding them. HP


The author
  Jerry Wanichko is the director of consulting operations for T.A. Cook Consultants in North America. He has over 25 years of international consulting experience in several industries, with particular expertise in oil, gas and chemicals. Previously, he was director of operations for Fluor, where he provided routine maintenance, reliability, and planning and scheduling services at 13 different petrochemical sites. Mr. Wanichko provides consulting services to asset-intensive businesses in the refining and petrochemicals industries. His work supports clients with maintenance optimization, turnaround, outage, shutdown optimization and overall equipment effectiveness improvement. 


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