MRO Magazine

Managing the execution of the shutdown


December 14, 2001
By PEM Magazine

The execution phase of the project or shutdown is, of course, the most important phase. If the plan was laid out well, all the allocated resources will be pulled together to realize their full potential. However, the shutdown coordinator should not just sit back and watch it all happen. Close monitoring of the work is just as important as the planning phase.

Nothing is more essential in leadership than knowing how and where to get information, developing it, analyzing it, then knowing how to use it. Karl Von Clausewitz, the eighteenth century Prussian military strategist, pointed out that you can’t ask a private what’s happening on the battlefield, because his fear, anxiety or exhilaration consumes his attention and colors his information.

Everything that people report to the shutdown coordinator during a shutdown is data, not necessarily information. Everything is not equally important. It’s up to the shutdown coordinator to cull the information out of the data. A few rules of management should be understood.

  • Understand the "vital few" and the "trivial many" when receiving project data from others.
  • Don’t play hunches. Get the facts, then act accordingly.
  • Fight personal prejudices. Just because you are normally an electrical supervisor doesn’t mean the electrical work performed during the shutdown is the most important.
  • Delegate or defer, but monitor the actions of people in your charge. You have the right to ask any question about the shutdown.
  • Always return to the plan. If the critical path has not changed, you’re on the right track.

Shutdown safety
Construction sites are notorious for being unsafe environments for workers. Since the frenzy of activity that occurs during a turnaround, shutdown, or outage is a lot like a construction job, extra precautions should be taken. There may be a lot of people in the same area at the same time during the shutdown, so the potential of one group’s work interfering with another’s is possible. It’s a good idea to step through all jobs that will be going on concurrently. Questions of safety during this activity should be asked.

  • Have all personnel, including contractors been briefed on personnel protective equipment requirements?
  • Are safety procedures such as lock-out, vessel entry, and hot work, understood by all?
  • Are safety clearances needed for this job?
  • Will adequate lighting be available?
  • What type of lock-out will be used?
  • Will blinds be required?
  • Will people be working above other people?
  • Will two or more groups be working in close proximity?
  • Will a crane or other overhead device be used in this area?

A pre-shutdown walk-through with every one associated with the shutdown is advised on very large projects. Check of lighting requirements, free and open access to exits, and review any emergency plans.

OSHA has special requirements for crane activity , which should be especially heeded during a shutdown. If cranes are scheduled, watch out that jobs aren’t scheduled under the crane’s lift path.

Developing daily schedules

Some shutdown coordinators wrongly wait until the start of each shift to develop a schedule. They feel they won’t know enough about the progress of jobs to develop a good schedule. Still others require the maintenance supervisors to develop their own schedule from the updated master schedule.

It is important that individual daily schedules be broken out of the master schedule before each day of the shutdown. It is best if this task is performed by or under the direction of the shutdown coordinator.

The resources have already been properly leveled and extra downtime jobs have been added to better use the eight maintenance employees, eight per shift. Two, twelve hour shifts are employed.

The plant was shutdown and ready for maintenance on June 2 and the old pipe was removed over the next 24-hour period. Concurrently, prefab work was completed, the pipe sections were moved to the job site and the sections were welded into spool pieces of proper length in the field. A pump, P-101, was removed while the piping was being moved to the job site because two maintenance workers were available.

Assuming the field welding and pipe removal will be complete by morning, a schedule must be developed for the June 3, 6:00 AM shift. A tentative schedule should also be developed for the evening shift beginning at 6:00 PM. The main job to schedule is the installation of the new pipe. Two extra jobs, "Remove P-102" and "Clean X-104" can also be started first thing in the morning, because four other maintenance employees are available. P-102 will be removed by about 10:00 AM and the two employees on this job can be moved to rebuild both P-101 and P-102.

The evening shift schedule can also be developed ahead of time. Any changes required to the evening schedule prior to the shift change should be minor. The maintenance first-shift supervisor can communicate these changes. First, the completion of the pipe installation is scheduled. Next the installation of the rebuilt pumps, P-101 and P-102, can be assigned to the remaining four maintenance workers. All six employees will be available to help with start-up problems eight hours later. If no problems exist, they can be sent home for the day. Pipe insulation can begin at that time or it can be rescheduled for the next morning when the plant returns to a regular shift schedule.

Job status update
Up-to-date information is the key to project success. Lack of job information during project execution is the root of many project failures. The status of all jobs must be communicated in a timely manner. A formal routine should be developed to report job progress.

1. Each morning, the shutdown coordinator should communicate with the shift coordinators. If a three-shift operation is being employed, the second (or night) shift coordinator should have already briefed the third (or graveyard) shift coordinator. Information provided by the coordinators should include:
a. Delays and problems that occurred during the prior evening.
b. Which problems were resolved and which were not. Unresolved problems on back shifts end up being handled by the day shift.
c. Staffing changes that were made during the evening.
d. The percent completion of all the jobs performed during the evening.
e. A rough estimate of the elapsed time remaining on each job.

2. During the day shift, all problems which may result in a delay in completion time or an increase in project cost should be communicated.

3. At the end of every day shift, the shutdown planner should meet with the all project support personnel and update the project status.

4. Properly close out all work orders from the shutdown as they are completed. Don’t wait until the end of the shutdown. This will help keep the shutdown cost accounting up-to-date.

5. Ask, "What heavy equipment coordination is required today?"

Reporting project status
A shutdown planner should be prepared to report the status of the project at any time. Early on in the project, it should have been determined who the customers or stakeholders are. Operations are usually the most interested in the outcome of a shutdown because continued operations are at risk. The shutdown planner should determine what the operation’s information needs are.

The status meetings held with shift coordinators and other project team members will provide the background information for all communications with operations. The shutdown coordinator should verify the statements made during these sessions and take actions to get the project on track. Once these actions are in place, the shutdown coordinator should conduct a session with operations.

Progress with respect to eventual start-up time is usually the most desired information. Any situations that may extend the project should be reported immediately. Any contingency plans and remedies should also be communicated to operations.

The project manager should also report if the shutdown work is progressing quicker than originally estimated. Operations may want to reschedule operators or other line personnel for the earlier date.

An atmosphere of total communication should exist during the shutdown. Other persons involved in the shutdown, such as maintenance workers, may want to know how their efforts are affecting the shutdown. The project master schedule should be displayed for all to see. Current status toward completion should be indicated on the schedule. Any benchmarks or goals that have been reached should be identified clearly.

A PERT chart provides the best overall look at project progress. The jobs that are completed are highlighted. Delays and extensions of certain jobs are also shown, along with a progress up date. Despite some delays this project is ahead of schedule. It can also be seen that job C and F became critical because of a 24 hour delay in the delivery of valves coupled with an early completion of jobs I and L.

Tracking project costs
Project cost data should also be published and displayed for all to see. There are two common ways to present the data; cost per week and cumulative costs.

Typically, the weekly charges associated with a shutdown or project start low, build to a peak, and then recede to zero. The curve on the left shows an idealized example of this type of trend. The cumulative curve on the right shows how the same weekly costs accumulate to the total cost of the project. This curve is often referred to as an S-curve because of the shape it normally forms.

Budget versus actual costs is best tracked using the cumulative (S-curve) and weekly charting method.

This chart shows progress made toward reaching the budgeted goal for the shutdown. Both estimated and actual costs are displayed. The initial phase of the project, which includes design, prefabrication, and material purchases, is shown for February through May. The scale changes to weeks for the project execution phase. Cumulative costs have exceeded the estimated costs so far. This cost overrun seems to be due to higher than expected pre-shutdown costs. Costs seem to be coming back into line but cumulative cost data, by itself, can be deceiving. Weekly costs and budgets should also be plotted to give a true picture of cost control.

This chart clearly shows the overruns in the pre-shutdown stage. It also shows that lower than expected costs were experienced in the first few weeks of the shutdown. What was not evident on the S-curve but is evident here is that the costs are again exceeding the estimated costs as of June 23. The shutdown coordinator should watch this trend closely and take steps to bring costs back in line if the budget goal is to be reached.

Michael V. Brown is part of the Milford, CT-based New Standard Institute. Founded in 1991, New Standard Institute provides maintenance management consulting and technical training services to industrial clients. For more information, visit