4 Key Reasons Shutdowns, Turnarounds, and Outages Fail

In the world of maintenance, there is probably nothing more thoroughly planned than shutdowns, turnarounds, and outages - commonly referred to as STOs. They are often planned months and years in advance by a dedicated team of professionals. Despite this extensive planning, they often fail to meet their targets.  

The numbers are sobering. According to figures in the eBook “Practical Shutdown and Turnaround Management for Engineers and Managers,” published by IDC Technologies, over 90% of the turnarounds studied failed to meet the company’s business and turnaround goals! It seems as if a completely successful STO event is very rare indeed.

Looking at more of the study’s findings gives us some clues as to why so few shutdown turnarounds fail to meet all their goals. Almost 90% of the turnarounds studied experienced work “scope growth” between 10% and 50%. “Scope growth” or “scope creep” is defined as continuous or uncontrolled addition of new work to an event after the scope freeze date.

This alone should not throw a properly planned shutdown off the rails. Emergent work generated from inspections is often unavoidable as assets cannot be examined during normal operations. As contractors, inspectors, and other SME's perform their work, emergent work should be expected, addressed, and accounted for.  

Proper scope management, planning and communication will ultimately pay dividends by minimizing the amount of unnecessary work associated with an STO event. By freeing up valuable time and resources, project critical emergent work can be handled with less stress and work overload that often plagues projects of this nature.

1. Poor Scope Management

The STO project must focus only on work that is truly within the boundaries of the defined strategy or work scope. This is easier said than done. Work requests are generated from many different originating groups.  

Operations, maintenance, capital projects, and EHS teams among others will all have varying goals and motivations for requesting work during an STO event. Validating these work requests from so many different sources requires a robust scope challenge process.

Each scope needs to be:

  • Checked: that the data is accurate with no duplicate requests
  • Challenged: that this task needs to be performed as requested during this event
  • Clarified: that the scope request is clear as written and meets all regulatory requirements

By adequately challenging each scope request we eliminate redundant, "gut-feeling", and over-complicated work that drains a project's limited time and resources. Common examples of these types of requests involve circumstances that are entirely avoidable.  

For example, a 6' ball valve is seized up and requires replacement. The work is carried out on day two of the event. On day four the entire line is replaced with 8' piping including the brand new valve which is now scrapped. Not only is the cost of the material and labor wasted but also the effort put into planning the task and the lost opportunity to perform other more impactful work with that time.

It takes considered effort to create systems of accountability and checks to make scenarios like those less and less likely. Each facility and event will be unique. However, successful STO events often adhere to the following: Scope requests are centralized into a single repository with clear approval flows. Requests for information, rejections, and approval are logged and auditable. And lastly, scopes are evaluated with a set of objective criteria such as J-Factor assessments, compliance requirements, or manufacturer guidelines.

2. Emergent Work

As we noted earlier, almost all the turnarounds studied experienced work scope growth of at least 10%, with some ranging as high as 50%. Some scope creep is simply inevitable. Since machinery is offline, a shutdown period is a great time to take the covers off for thorough inspections.  

These inspections will often turn up “extra” work that wasn’t planned for originally and some of it may need to be done during the shutdown. Keeping a tight control on this is essential. If it can be done after the shutdown, then do it after the shutdown.

Scope creep may be the most common reason for STO projects running beyond their planned duration. There are different schools of thought on how to deal with this issue, but a good rule of thumb is simply to be prepared. Making and following contingency plans will ultimately be a cheaper approach than a long delay.

Historical data can be your guide. When the data suggests the likelihood of emergent work that might delay the schedule, you should factor in a contingency which would add about 10% to your planned duration.  

Remember that this is only a rule of thumb. A careful examination of the data may give you a reason to increase the planned duration by more than this if it seems likely to be necessary.

3. Poor Communication

Clear and accurate communication with all stakeholders is vital during the planning process and throughout the shutdown execution itself. Poor communication during either phase can create an environment of mistrust, cause delays and cost overruns, and may lead to increased worker injuries.

The need for effective communication goes beyond the STO planning team. Each craftsperson working on the shutdown should be able to provide a status report on their own work if required, including whether they expect to meet their targets.  

It is not enough to hand out the work scopes at the beginning of the project. Good communication also includes ensuring accurate information is passed from shift-to-shift throughout the duration of the STO.  

At minimum, this information should include what was completed, what’s in progress, what work remains to be done, and how the overall project stands in terms of meeting its goals.  

4. Inadequate Planning

This may be the single biggest cause for STO projects not meeting their goals. According to the IDC Technologies study we referenced earlier, three out of four shutdown turnarounds went off their planned schedules in the very first week.  

In most cases, the point of failure can be traced back to inadequate planning. This doesn’t mean they didn’t plan the project; it probably just means they didn’t plan the project thoroughly enough.

They say the devil is in the details, and it’s in the details that STO planning can easily go awry. Replacing a valve as part of the STO seems like a simple procedure, but there are many details that should be in place to ensure it proceeds smoothly.

There needs to be properly resourced work orders. Someone needs to contact the vendor to see if there is a standard procedure for replacing that valve. The parts must be on hand. Depending on the nature of the work, you may need permits or government approvals to go ahead.

Plan and Execute Your Shutdowns, Turnarounds, and Outages successfully

Thorough planning for STOs means knowing the answer to all these questions and more, for all the work that must be done. Inadequate planning will cost time and money.

STO personnel are often separated from ordinary functions within the organization. Quite often there is a high turnaround in the shutdown teams. The team planning the next STO may have few or no personnel who took part in the previous shutdown event.  

As such, there could be significant loss of experience within the team. Inadequate planning can spring from these factors. The last team may have made a mistake in their STO planning. They learned their lesson, but now they’re gone, and nobody remembers anything about it … so the current team makes the same mistake!

A successful shutdown turnaround project not only needs proper planning but also meticulous and detailed scheduling to help ensure that it will meet its key performance indicators. Learn more about how Prometheus STO Management Suite can help you reach your goals by contacting us today.