Most of the focus on industrial projects is directed to the engineering and construction of the physical assets (buildings, tanks, pumps, etc.). While this is certainly where the vast majority of capital is spent, owners sometimes forget that these expensive assets don't generate any revenue on their own, despite my best efforts early in my career as an industrial automation engineer. Focus also must be given to preparing the organization to operate these facilities and while this Operational Readiness (OR) work is less linear in nature that construction, it still requires a structured approach to project execution. OR scope varies depending on whether the project is greenfield (new facility) or brownfield (addition / modification of an existing facility), as well as the industry.
Greenfield OR is focused on developing an entirely new organization and building an operating business from the ground up. If the new facility is part of a larger company then it can leverage the systems, procedures and organization design from other operations, though care must be taken to assess the impact of local regulations, culture, labour norms and geography. Early in the OR process, the organization must answer some fundamental questions such as “what is the facility’s mission?”, "what kind of culture do we want to build?”, “what is our outsourcing strategy going to be?”, “to what degree do we need procedures?”, “to what degree must we manage costs?”, etc. The answers to these fundamental questions translate into the policies and procedures and cascade into employee hiring and training. Other typical greenfield OR scope includes developing standard operating procedures (SOPs), procuring operating materials & service contracts and configuring business IT systems.
Brownfield projects have different requirements with the focus of managing change to the existing organization, rather than creating something new. A structured management of change (MOC) assessment is required to ensure that all the risks and implications of a project are identified and addressed before the new assets are put into service. This typically includes timely communication of the change and its impacts to the employees working in the area, SOP updates, employee retraining, safety control changes, maintenance plan updates, changes to warehouse inventories, and many others. The effort associated with these changes can vary widely depending on whether the scope is a minor modification or a brownfield expansion, the latter of which may also require greenfield-type OR scope such as new procedures, employees and/or training content.
OR needs also vary based on industry and are influenced by the degree of regulation, the inherent risk profile of the operation, and geopolitics. Highly regulated industries will have many prescribed requirements, such as Health Canada regulations dictating security requirements in the pharmaceutical industry. High-risk operations such as mining and oil & gas facilities require significant occupational and process safety controls & procedures in order to minimize risk to people, assets, the environment and surrounding communities. Geopolitics can also be a significant driver of OR activities in locations where industrial benefit agreements are a prerequisite for the facility’s operating license, which may dictate requirements for minimum local organization size, workforce demographic targets and/or local procurement.
With so many factors influencing the scope of OR activities, a structured assessment of all potential influences is the most effective means to defining the required scope. Particularly in greenfield situations the nature of OR work is such that scope details are evolving until completion, which makes the traditional waterfall-style project management methodology used in industrial projects less appropriate. Instead, methodologies more commonly used in the IT sector can be more beneficial, including Kanban or Agile. The practical challenge this poses is that these methodologies are not generally well understood in the industrial sector, so finding resources with the right combination of project management skills and industrial knowledge can be difficult, as is the integration of this style into the larger project team and plan, which is crucial for overall project success.
In summary, successfully achieving the ROI of a project depends on both the physical assets being built efficiently and the organization being ready to operate these assets once they are constructed. While there are many factors that can influence Operational Readiness scope, a structured approach to assessing the requirements and executing the plan is imperative. The fundamental key to success however is the recognition that both the construction of the assets and Operational Readiness must be executed as a single, integrated project.