Turnaround Project Planning Primer

Justification for Managing Turnarounds

In our experience, there are three basic approaches to managing turnarounds in practice:

Loose Control
Tight Control
(contract out everthing - turnkey)
(management by experience and intuition)
(project management, critical path schedules, procedures)
  • Politically safe - the contractor assumes full responsibility
  • Highest cost - the contractor builds risk and contingency in the bid
  • No political benefit for a successful execution
  • Politically risky - the turnaround can easily get out of hand
  • High costs - there are no systems for analysis or improvement
  • Political benefit for a successful execution
  • Lower costs - there are systems for analysis and improvement
  • Budgets need less contingency

As a general consensus in the industry, by managing turnarounds using critical path scheduling techniques, savings of up to fifteen percent (15%) are possible. For a turnaround estimated at three million dollars, the savings amount to almost half a million dollars!

The savings in time vary with the scope of work, the critical and near-critical sequence of activities, availability of labor, equipment and materials, weather, and other variable factors. But the use of critical path techniques allows the turnaround manager to execute his turnaround in the shortest possible time. Since the critical path method is an analytical tool, all activities are examined, sequenced and prioritized in a logical, efficient manner. Also during this effort, alternative ways to carry out the work are considered in the process of preparing the turnaround schedule. The net result is a realistic, workable schedule which can be met. This schedule can be shorter, equal or longer than the allowed or desired time span. If it is longer, it can be reviewed for any improvements or to eliminate some critical work from the scope in order to shorten the duration of the turnaround.

A good critical path schedule will prove that you cannot shorten the turnaround duration simply by adding more manpower. Increasing the manpower to shorten a turnaround does not work because it fails to take into account that most of the tasks require only a certain number of workers: double or triple the crews and you will have a dramatic loss of productivity (that can be easily verified by the number of workers standing around idle).

The differences between a well-managed turnaround and a loosely organized one are dramatic:

Well-Managed Turnaround
Loosely Organized Turnaround
(planning, CPM scheduling)
(work lists, verbal coordination only)
  • Improved communication
  • Lowest possible cost
  • Shortest possible downtime
  • Higher morale
  • Higher productivity
  • Anticipating problems
  • Lower emotional drain
  • Communication breakdown
  • Much higher overall costs
  • Longer shutdown span
  • Lower morale
  • Lower productivity
  • Reacting to problems
  • Higher stress, tension

As anyone who has experienced both approaches to executing turnarounds will testify, there is only one way to do it: the right way. Turnarounds are too important to just "let them happen". All turnarounds, regardless of their size, must be managed.

There are still individuals that prefer to "manage" turnarounds by the seat of their pants. They rely on their experience, instincts and on the assistance of their staff. How will this type of manager be able to manage a turnaround if he does not know the detailed scope, the total duration, the critical and near-critical paths, and is unable to measure objectively and control progress on a daily basis?

To say that he knows the scope just because he has turned around the same unit several times is a poor argument, because the scope may have changed every time. To argue that his turnarounds were always completed "successfully" is also meaningless, since without a good detailed scope and tracking, he has probably used much more manpower than he should have, resulting in a waste of company money. To assert that his turnarounds were always completed on time may also be meaningless, since a good, tight schedule had never been prepared and therefore no yardstick exists to see how much longer it took every time to run the turnaround by the "seat of his pants".

ATC Professional™ has been used very successfully to provide savings in time and cost. In some instances the cost savings ranged between 25 to 40 percent, at small chemical unit turnarounds. Savings of up to 20 and 25 percent were achieved at several oil refineries using ATC Professional™.

The substantial savings involved in properly organizing, defining, estimating, planning, scheduling and controlling a turnaround easily justify the cost and effort required. The costs of planning and scheduling a turnaround amount to anywhere from .5 to 1 percent of the total turnaround costs. The savings more than offset these costs! The alternative - to let a turnaround run its course without planning and scheduling - is a very expensive one, as many a manager has found out the hard way!

Next Page

The Turnaround Project Management Primer is an abridged version of the STO Management Handbook.

For further reading, we also recommend Joel Levitt’s Managing Maintenance Shutdowns and Outages.