Impact of planning on Power station projects

The Challenge

Whilst working on an IT project for the client, I was passing through the management suite when the CEO stopped me and invited me into his office. He wanted to pick my project management brain about a power engineering project issue. He explained that all power stations had to be decommissioned regularly for routine maintenance and technology updates. The main risk with such outages was the reliable return to service of the unit in time to meet peak demand from both a statutory and financial viewpoint.

Most outages had serious risk points relating to a lack of pre-planning and definition, together with late financial approval and poor supplier management. In addition, as time to deliver ran out, each project was significantly de-scoped, leaving key works uncompleted and presenting the risk of ongoing operational inefficiencies. This was an on-going structural issue.

More urgently, he was was worried about the current outage. He was concerned that returning it back into service was going to be severely delayed. This presented the company with a number of significant short-term business risks.

Without having any deep knowledge of power engineering, I agreed to have a look at the problem, with some trepidation. It was clear that there were two issues. The most urgent was to look at the current outage and the most important was to find a structural solution to delivering effective decommissioning and maintenance projects.

The Key Solutions

It was clear to me that by examining the issue with the current outage there would be two benefits. The first would be to be able to rectify the more urgent situation. The second would be that the insights gained from solving the short-term problem would facilitate a structural solution to all future outages.

I suggested that I work with one of the company’s internal audit team members to carry out a full audit of the process over a 4-month period. The purpose of involving an internal auditor was to:

  • ensure we had enough resource to complete the work in time
  • provide me with some local knowledge to avoid blind alleys
  • ensure any conclusions were properly documented, formally, and presented within existing company governance

With regard to the current outage, I did not have time to do a formal audit and report to be implemented after acceptance. The approach I chose was to work alongside the management and engineers involved with the current outage, side by side, to identify and mitigate risks. I also began to restructure the work in terms of making sure we were doing the right things in the right order. Secondly I needed to ensure that we did those things in the right way.

The Outcomes

The lessons learned about what to do and how to do it proved invaluable in designing a process to ensure all outages would be managed effectively in the future.

We managed to retrieve the current project from being 14 (24/7 working) days late to 1 day late, saving both 13 days of project costs, but more crucially saving 13 days of power production revenue, each providing multi-million £s of benefits to the client.

Simultaneously, to ensure the delivery of all future outages, a best practice approach was created. A methodology was created and successfully applied on a systematic basis. This identified many possible risks with mitigation strategies. From then on outages were well managed and delays/overspends avoided, with each of two subsequent major outages being delivered at full scope, within budget and before the target schedule.