Tips for Managing Process Changes During Facility Startups

The need to develop new processes should be an expected part of any facility startup project. Depending on the type of site that’s being launched, the organization may not have established protocols that address any number of functions—inventory management or materials receiving, for example. Or it’s possible that formal processes do exist within the company, but that they aren’t comprehensive enough to encompass all the activities that will occur in the new facility.

In each case, it’s important the project team begin to address process issues during the early planning stages. This approach provides the Project Team with good visibility into all the tasks that must be executed to drive the new facility project to completion. It also ensures the organization knows exactly what it needs to do to bring its people, process, and machines together safely and efficiently, and that any applicable regulatory mandates or legal obligations are met as part of the effort.

The following tips will give Project Teams a good place to begin as they work to gather information on where process changes are needed and formulate plans to deploy those new or revised processes once the facility is ready for use.

Cast a wide net. The first step is to make inquiries within every functional sub-group involved in the project. There may be processes that are less obvious to a casual user but will be well known by the teams that work in those areas day in and day out. As baseline questions are answered, the team should continue to dig deeper until everyone is confident they’ve uncovered the level of detail needed to move forward. It may also be useful to talk with vendors and suppliers to learn what type of processes their other customers have deployed in their own facilities.

Don’t wait until the last minute. A common lament is that stakeholders can’t be sure which new processes will be needed until the facility is ready for use, or that they don’t know where existing processes might require updates. While there may be some tweaking involved once the facility goes live—unexpected issues may crop up or a more efficient approach might present itself upon ongoing use—formal processes should still be in place prior to the project’s completion. Not doing so often leaves the organization with a lengthy wait to reach maximum efficiency as the team scrambles to devise new processes while also trying to accomplish their daily tasks.

Consider the human factor. It’s likely that many of the anticipated process changes will require some level of employee training, so think about how best to deliver the necessary education. Can sessions be held onsite? Who should serve as the instructor? If the process change involves new equipment, ask the vendor if they include training as part of the installation price. Another options is to contact a respected industry group for recommendations on local instructors. Longer term, it’s important that the organization’s training standards be updated as part of the project, to ensure that new employees added after the facility opens receive the necessary instruction.

Remember to document each new or changed process. No process implementation or revision is complete until everything has been documented from beginning to end. Work with the respective stakeholder groups to determine where and how process documentation is produced, reviewed, approved, stored, and referenced, then add those activities to the project’s scope and schedule. Assign clear responsibility for these tasks at the individual level so there’s someone to confirm everything has been completed. This provides the accountability the Project Team needs to close out the project without any uncompleted tasks.

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