Applying PMBOK to Manage Shutdowns, Turnarounds and Outages

Project Time Management

One of the most obvious signs of the low maturity in turnaround project management is the state of the planning and scheduling that is intended to form the foundation of the management process. A successful turnaround management methodology must set a high standard for the planning and scheduling to be successful.

Activity Definition

Planning activities that are overly broad in scope are one of the biggest obstacles to using a schedule for any meaningful purpose:

  • They are difficult to estimate with confidence
  • They can mask details that the planner neglected to consider
  • They preclude a detailed critical path analysis where more detail may allow refinements in the logic
  • They detract from the accuracy of progress estimates (estimating % complete is more difficult)

Because of the compressed nature of turnarounds, there is a very small window available for recording and processing progress information in order to generate updated schedules for the next shift. The greater the detail in the activity definition, the less thinking/guesswork is involved in assigning progress to the defined tasks.

Activities must be clearly defined, and should be measurable. This means anyone should be able to determine if a particular activity (as defined) is in progress, or completed. Activities must be defined every time there is a break or change in work content, and/or by changes in the work crew. See the Turnaround Project Planning Primer for more information on Defining Activities.


It is of paramount importance to understand that, unlike EPC projects where a baseline schedule is often used as a firm contractual commitment, for turnarounds a schedule should be a considered a guideline tool to drive the execution of the work. This issue is fundamental to developing a successful turnaround management methodology.

Turnaround managers have a lot of discretion with regards to scope management in turnaround schedules. While there will be portions of the scope aside from the critical path work that must be executed within the instant project, a significant portion of the scope may usually be postponed to future turnarounds or maintenance opportunities. As priorities shift depending upon the scope of add-on repair work and resource constraints, managers need a turnaround schedule that offers flexibility in managing the non-critical work.

Baseline schedules (other than critical and near-critical paths) are meaningless for turnarounds once they start. For turnarounds, it is expected that as inspections are performed, a changing scope (and therefore priorities for constrained resources / non-time-critical work) and often poor schedule compliance (for unavoidable circumstances) will force the schedule for non-time-critical work to change from update to update.

Because of the dynamic nature of turnarounds, it can be counter-productive to employ soft logic and resource leveling schemas that level the schedule. Both techniques are designed to produce a static plan for execution that is not practical for turnarounds. Soft logic will necessitate constant time-consuming changes/updates to maintain a meaningful schedule once deviations from the schedule occur (and this is expected in a turnaround). Resource leveling schemas that alter a hard logic schedule will introduce multiple problems within a turnaround context as outlined in the Resource Leveling or Critical Mass? white paper.

It is instead preferable to maintain a schedule for critical and near-critical path analysis and to allow field supervision discretion in directing their crews on non-time-critical work according to changing priorities and circumstances. Turnaround managers should monitor progress trends, productivity/earned value and scheduled resource requirements every update to ensure that sufficient time and resources are available to complete the non-time-critical work within the span of the critical path.

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Authored by Bernard Ertl, Partner, InterPlan Systems

Bernard Ertl has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and extensive field experience planning and managing turnarounds in the oil refining and petrochemical process industries.

Applying PMBOK to Manage Shutdowns, Turnarounds and Outages was also published in Maintenance and Asset Management Journal Vol 20, No 3, Autumn 2005.