Put the Planning Back in Planned Outages

Managing service disruptions can be a challenge for power plant operators. Even when planned outages are scheduled well in advance, any number of issues can impact the project’s progress. Organizations often need to coordinate activities across many different business groups, outside utility partners and suppliers, and multiple facilities. Weather interference has the potential to make planning and execution exponentially more difficult. Add in a low tolerance for downtime and lean budgets that limit the availability of contingency funds, and the end result is a project environment that’s extremely unforgiving.

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When it comes to executing the critical activities that support pre-arranged service outages, plant managers must make detailed planning a top priority. Several strategies will help PMP®s keep project activities on track by developing a workable plan, continuously monitoring progress against expectations, and proactively addressing potential delays.

Accurate and complete information is at the heart of all successful planned outages. One of the tools available to help project teams pull together and make sense of all that data is the work breakdown structure. This document offers PMP®s a way to ensure the right level of detail is captured about each activity within the project, and that task sequencing and responsibilities across the stakeholder spectrum—including employees, vendors, partner utilities, and other external collaborators—are clear.

A work breakdown structure supports effective planning efforts in a variety of ways. For example, a thorough understanding of task dependencies is crucial during planned outages. By populating the work breakdown structure with the necessary details, connections between activities are defined early in the planning process. PMP®s can then track the progress of each task in the sequence to keep the project on track. Because labor shortages, inclement weather, and other factors all have the potential to impact the successful execution of tasks, a work breakdown structure may also be used to develop contingency plans that ensure the flow of activities isn’t interrupted.

There are a multitude of relationships that exist within a project team, all of which must function in unison to successfully complete a planned outage. Work breakdown structures are useful in delineating and defining those connections and touch points, giving each group the insight they need to be accountable for their activities. By displaying where each task impacts the work of others, the work breakdown structure helps sub-teams ensure good communication flows with their project partners who may be affected if activities change in any way.

Along with a work breakdown structure, the use of a project methodology that includes a robust planning and control component will also help organizations avoid problems that can send a planned outage off track. Activities in a power plant environment must often be tightly sequenced, not just to minimize the length of service disruptions but also to fit into labor and system schedules that don’t include much wiggle room. If delays or unforeseen challenges impact the rate of progress, the team may need to employ a proven planning and control methodology to compress the schedule and maintain adherence to final completion dates.

With a solid approach to planning and control that encompasses the entire project lifecycle, the team will benefit from early warnings about any schedule slippage. Everyone on the team will understand their responsibilities and each member of the group can be held accountable for successful and timely completion of their tasks. At the first sign of trouble, PMP®s can quickly determine where activity time-frames may no longer match expectations. They will then have the opportunity to shift tasks around to realign the schedule and ensure the project’s overall execution continues as planned.

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