Shut-down Planning

5 recommendations for shut down planners 22nd March 2017

Well its now March 2017 and a very long time since I last blogged. So what has happened in this time? Ive been busy working for an exceptional client within the Pharmaceutical industry on challenging shut down projects. They are classic "cut and carve" projects, which typically means an upgrade of an asset or "bunch of assets" (in a working facility) to continue the manufacturing of drugs for supply. It may be an upgrade is needed to (A) produce more product (...a quicker, bigger turn around at a lower cost), or (B) to meet GMP best practice and the legal requirements of the FDA.

For me "shut down" projects have common challenges (I love this way of describing problems)...every problem is an opportunity....yes right ok. As long as you can solve the problem. I can imagine the risk professionals out there saying to be really good you need to solve problems before they happen. Well to this I say, I have indeed gained great expertise in risk and change management, as in shut downs you typically have very little schedule contingency. So what happens when risks are realised and then, oh no! you need more time!? The forecast project end date slips and oh dear!

I have the following 5 recommendations for shut down planners to best control the schedule. These are my thoughts through experience and I consider them to fit within the common body of knowledge of Project planning and control. I come from the stance of "when the chips are down" then this is what really counts!

1. Set up right

  • Avoid making lots of assumptions to meet the constrained time slot. Address the assumptions as best you can through scope definition.
  • Do not completely optimise your baseline. e.g. Keep weekends free (no resource loading here), allow for non productive time, allow time for rework in commissioning and snagging.
  • Set up one source of the truth with contractors... This means a common WBS and integrated project control tools. e.g. Change and Risk log, common variance reports, trackers for documentation approvals and commissioning tests.

2. Maintain Visibility

  • A Visual planning board is essential! For me this is a large board on a wall showing activities by work pack. A daily board is needed (4 weeks rolling) and an overall project board showing the full project lifecycle (the Master schedule). This allows regular daily updates and gets the project team buy in. What-ifs can be discussed on the spot. There is no reliance on software here. The planner facilitates and ensures logic is understood.
  • Define milestones that are often overlooked, examples are: No more Design Change, Services on/off, completion of user training and when levels of cleanliness are required prior to Process Qualification.
  • Put a Boston Matrix on the wall and get your post-its out. Show the risks and give them ownership and assess impact. Its easy to update for effective risk management.

3. Spot Check with friends

  • Communication is always important. Get the key people in your team (i.e. The PM, site lead, subject matter experts and technical managers) and stand back, ask is the project healthy?
  • Enagage with QA and users to make sure they are part of the project. By ensuring their comments are part of the review process we will minimise late change and disruption in commissioning and qualification.
  • Always look for opportunities to work quicker as a team. Contractors will typically protest about working on activities that are not on the critical path. You will need to promote a working culture that is productive and works on non-critical activities. How else can we protect what is important! The End Date!

4. Roll it up

  • Be sure you can see the wood and not just trees. As a shut down planner you will need to be able to flex your planning and risk boards whilst keeping a close eye on your level 1 schedule.
  • Ensure vertical and horizontal integration of the master schedule.
  • The actions identified in Variance reporting should be followed up to effect high level RAG criteria.

5. Dont be afraid

  • Its not easy working on a shut down. When there is no time, then peoples emotions can fly. Stay grounded with the team and understand different perspectives on change.
  • If somethings needs doing and its not happening then use your skills to make it happen.
  • If you are spending too much time managing a large schedule then look to make best use of your time. Dont be afraid to re-programme if that is what is needed.

I would be keen on hearing from other planners, cost engineers and project control professionals that work on "shut down" projects in all industries.


Dailey Consultancy Ltd controls time constrained projects by reflecting on what really counts for our clients.

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