Risk Management, the Right Way
When risk management techniques are applied to selecting the most appropriate project management organization, the chance of project success soars.
By John Nita and Luiz Correa, Emerson Process Management
Resource depth –
You know what’s driving the project from a corporate perspective; how likely is it that your management will throw more money at the project in order to shorten the schedule and/or increase the scope? If that’s even a remote possibility, you’ll want to understand the depth and quality of resources the candidate organization is able to muster on short notice.
Turnkey responsibility –
You may not be intending for the candidate organization to take responsibility for all field instrumentation, analyzers and controls valves, but you never know how responsibilities and staff assignments within your company might change. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to know the breadth of control and instrumentation capabilities and the application experience candidate organizations have available.
Certainly other business-related project offerings exist, and just because a candidate project management organization doesn’t mention the specific one or two you’re seeking doesn’t mean they don’t know how to provide it. Ask and you may be pleasantly surprised.
Though there is no formal definition of what constitutes an advanced project tool, technique or methodology, a few in the area of engineering that come to mind include:
- Library of pre-tested and fully-documented software modules – Developing reusable, modular software is a pretty common practice today, so if you ask if a candidate organization has or use these, the answer will always be “yes.” You’re going to live with the application software for a long time. What you really want to know is if their existing library of modules is applicable to your process, project and other business requirements. Spend time learning the reusable software module architecture they are offering. Try to determine if the architecture makes sense for how your company supports application software. Ask to see a documented application package. Does the documentation include detailed test procedures? Will the test procedures and results help to minimize future validation effort for the project? Be sure to ask how other clients have leveraged the software modules for this purpose.
- Advanced process control expertise – Increasingly, automation system manufacturers are including fuzzy logic, neural networks, Model Predictive Control (MPC), and other advanced control algorithms as standard function blocks. Do you know how to determine if your application would benefit from any of these? If any of these are used, will your company be able to support them long-term? Seek organizations that have proven experience developing and applying advanced process control algorithms using the very same tool set that is being included in your system.
- Fieldbus design and implementation expertise – There’s a right and wrong way to do just about everything. If you’re new to or just thinking about using fieldbus technologies, you will need engineering assistance. And just because this is a form of digital networking, don’t think that a solution engineered by IT is the answer. For that matter, don’t believe that just because someone’s knowledgeable about the engineering and installation nuances of one fieldbus technology makes them knowledgeable about all fieldbus technologies. Once a digital fieldbus is installed, you’re going to live with it for a very long time. Get it right and you’ll love the results. Get it wrong and it’ll keep you awake at night – literally. Seek organizations with experience in engineering and installing multiple fieldbus technologies.
- Automation system hardware – Ordering and shipping automation system hardware and software to the project engineering location is costly and risky. Costs include having to order and pay for the system well before it’s needed at its final destination. There’s also the unexpected cost of insuring the system while it’s at the project engineering location and/or in transit. Risks include damaged or lost components as well as failure to install important system upgrades. Look for organizations that have their own system hardware. Better yet, look for automation systems that can simulate controller and I/O functions in a standard personal computer.
By decoupling application software development from the system hardware, you should be able to receive the latest hardware, at the right time, and most importantly application software development and testing may be done in parallel to hardware testing and installation on site.
- Software license – Most automation system manufacturers use some form of software licensing to manage the automation systems capabilities and size. While this helps manage costs – you buy only as much automation system as you need – often you don’t know how much you need until the project is well under way. If you must ship the automation system to the project engineering location, you’ll have to make a “best guess” of how large a software license to purchase. Guess wrong and you may face delays and certainly will incur additional costs obtaining the new license. Look for project management organizations that have their own hardware and “unlimited” software licensing capability. Not only does this delay purchasing hardware until the site’s ready to receive and install it, but you end up buying the correct size and capability software license the first time.
Certainly this list could be expanded, but you get the idea.
In order for an automation project to have a better than 50/50 chance of success, the basic project essentials described above must be in place. After that, the projects probability of success increases with the addition of project appropriate advanced project offerings.
When stated like that, it seems that ensuring project success is fairly easy to achieve. The problem is no two automation projects are exactly alike. Even “sister plants” that are said to be “exactly” alike, or at least “really quite similar,” never are exactly alike and probably aren’t all that similar. This introduces additional project risks that are most likely to be mitigated by ensuring the basic project essentials are firmly in place and are appropriately augmented with a mix of advanced project offerings. And that’s best achieved through the application of risk management techniques we’ve been discussing.
It’s the diligence you apply to the risk-based assessments that will help decide if a project management organizations basic essentials and advanced project offerings are really well suited to mitigate identified project risks.
So let’s recap: The potential for automation project success greatly increases when users:
- Identify, quantify, and document project risks prior to setting out to find an appropriate project management organization.
- Ensure the basic project essentials of candidate organizations are in place and mesh well with other project disciplines and how your company executes projects.
- Examine, evaluate, and add appropriate advanced project engineering and business related offerings.
- Interview those persons in a candidate organization as though they’re about to be hired, because that’s exactly what’s about to happen.
Just as you wouldn’t invest your kid’s college fund or your retirement nest egg in a mutual fund without first examining the fund's investment risks and potentials – including the fund manager’s philosophy and track record – you shouldn’t invest your company’s money in a process automation project without first ensuring the project manager, engineers, technicians, systems and product support are experienced and well suited for your specific project. You must also make sure the management commitment and financial resources to support the project are solid and will be available for the life of your system.
About the Authors
John Nita is a senior principal engineer with Emerson Process Management. Over his 10-year career, he has held positions in process engineering, project management, and plant technical and operations management.
Luiz Correa is a project manager with Emerson Process Management. During his 15 years with Emerson, he has held positions in custom hardware engineering, application software engineering, project engineering and project management.