Professionals shun heroic endeavour



This major drilling contractor’s ‘turnaround’ projects entailed a large volume of maintenance, repair and recertification work. These are complex undertakings, not because of the novelty or technical difficulty aspects of the work but rather the number of interfaces that need managing.

And, of course, with the rigs ‘out of service’ for the duration, the time pressure to get plant and equipment back to producing and earning means they are tightly coupled projects. Our client had to tighten things up. And fast.

When ‘can do’ fails

The company exuded a ‘can do’ culture, where no challenge was too much. During normal operations that were tightly controlled in an environment of mature systems and protocols, this iron self-belief was desirable. They were a well-oiled machine where safety and professionalism shone through.

Trouble arose with their ad hoc approach to projects, which was rudimentary. From self-reliant and poorly organised silos, teams were constantly ‘fighting fires’. As a consequence, they were operating beyond their failure boundaries, especially their level of required acceptable performance and workload failure boundary. This in turn made them cross the financial failure boundary.

Teams, however, were convinced they were doing what was necessary to deliver—flying in the face of adversity in a set of coveralls—not realizing their Herculean efforts were actually jeopardizing their projects. Inconsistencies often led to overworked and demoralized crews playing the blame game when the inevitable failures came to pass. Project managers were unaware their project outcomes were directly impacting the organization’s corporate risk profile.

True, they had enjoyed some successes which became etched into people’s memories and fed the ‘can do’ myth. But the sheer will needed to get there—and the mental exhaustion at the end—were airbrushed out of the story. Such is the nature of ‘heroic endeavour’ on projects.

The goal was reduced turnaround times and more predicable outcomes—in short, doing things in less time with no nasty surprises.

We needed to help the team develop an approach to better manage and control these projects. The goal was reduced turnaround times and more predicable outcomes—in short, doing things in less time with no nasty surprises.

Choosing professional endeavour

Wholesale transformational change was out. Our client wanted results, and fast. Nonetheless, the plan was to run a pilot project across 11 differently configured facilities within a year to prove the approach worked.

We needed to understand two aspects. First, what they were currently doing. And second, what should they do differently to achieve the management directive.

After an initial audit, we set about mapping the resilience they would need to reliably deliver each turnaround project. We standardized approaches wherever it made sense, setting in place methods, tools and techniques to allow the context and environment of each project to be better understood and prepared for.

We wound back the starting clock to a point where threats could be identified and properly mitigated. This also gave them time to consider opportunities and exploit them. With each pilot project, the lead-time (and cost) was shaved back, and our client’s teams eventually delivered the two-week turnaround target.

So what?

As noted, a ‘can do’ culture has positive aspects we didn’t want them to lose. While the specific context of each turnaround was baked into their planning, we harnessed their natural cultural heroic tendency through a flexible risk-based approach that scanned for unpredictable risks and acted quickly to avert trouble. Our client could therefore feel more certain of securing their project’s outcomes—and their reputation.

The two-week time savings ranged from $2-5m relative to the earnings of each facility. Over 11 facilities, this was an order of magnitude of approximately $30m/per year, and on a rollout basis across all their facilities of $90m/year. Based on a share-price estimate from the time, this new predictability of project outcome was in the region of hundreds of millions of market capital protected.