Turnaround Project Planning Primer

Critical Path Scheduling

After all work orders have been prepared and reviewed (approved), you will be ready to prepare a schedule. If more work orders are issued after you create the schedule, you can and should incorporate them into the schedule. This is a constant process, as you will get additional work orders for repairs arising from inspections. They must also be scheduled.

Remember the importance of maintaining the schedule constantly, as the number of changes to the work scope, progress or the lack of progress could otherwise render the schedule obsolete. The schedule must be updated at the end of every shift. This is usually twice a day. Failure to update the schedule with this frequency will impair the ability to make critical decisions, such as adding, maintaining or reducing manpower, reassigning crews, call on specialty contractors, etc.

Critical Path Scheduling

Critical path scheduling is the act of applying a logical sequence (by defining constraints) to the activities defined in the work orders. Most project management software employs a PDM (Precedence Diagramming Method) interface for defining the logic network. The sequence of activities which have no float or slack (Float = 0 hours) is called the critical path. It determines the remaining duration of the turnaround.

The first step to turnaround scheduling is to define all ’hard’ constraints. These are constraints that must be honored. For example, you cannot inspect the interior of a vessel until the manways have been opened. eTaskMaker® automatically generates hard constraint logic for you. ATC Professional™ automatically generates 80-90% of this logic for you as well when creating the initial schedule.

It is not necessary (although it is not detrimental) to add redundant constraints such as:

  • A --> B
  • B --> C
  • A --> C (this is redundant and unnecessary)

Activities can have multiple predecessors and/or successors. Activities can be started as soon as all of their predecessors are completed. For instance, "COOL DOWN / GAS FREE" can have as successors "INSTALL TEMPORARY LIGHTING" and "INSTALL ENTRY LADDER". Also, "CLOSE MANWAYS" can have as predecessors "REMOVE ENTRY LADDER", "REMOVE TEMPORARY LIGHTING" and "REMOVE AIR MOVERS". Remember:

  • Predecessors - the activities that must be completed before the next one can start
  • Successors - all activities that follow a specific task.

Activities can start as early as desired, or can be delayed until they run out of float or slack, thus becoming critical. At that point they are identified as the critical path. Any delay of the critical path activities will cause an equal delay for the entire schedule.

Most activities will have float or slack, which is the amount of time they can be delayed until they become critical (Float = 0 hours) and impact the unit’s start-up date.

Realistically, activities that have very little float or slack should be treated as critical simply because there may be a degree of error in the estimates. A sequence of activities with float = 5 hours could easily be critical if their combined durations were underestimated by five hours (or the critical path was similarly overestimated).


Be sure to schedule all equipment inspections early. This is very important, because some findings could require major repair work that might impact the schedule. All high manhour work orders should be started as soon as possible.

Some equipment will merit a lowered priority, if the past experience indicates little or no repair work will be required. Consult the inspection reports to identify the extent of the repairs during past turnarounds.

Low priority work is usually classified as "fill-in" work. It usually includes all kind of small jobs - mainly piping and valve work. You can spread out this work over the duration of the turnaround, to help smooth out the manpower requirements. The scope of these small jobs seldom grows into a larger one, and has no probability of showing up as the critical path.

They may, however, in the aggregation of several jobs, result in a critical mass of work (that can not be finished with available resources within the current critical path timeframe) and therefore eventually cause a delay in the schedule (overtaking the critical path). Critical mass develops when the rate of progress is insufficient to complete the work before the critical path end date. It is usually due to insufficient manpower. This is the reason for keeping a close watch on the actual number of workers, every shift, and comparing it with the schedule requirements.

Sequencing the Work

After the basic schedule has been created, and the work prioritized (sequenced) according to an Operations / Production equipment availability schedule and the other considerations discussed earlier, you should sequence the work in such a manner as to enhance the utilization of manpower, tools and equipment.

In sequencing the work, we have to consider the type of job, the resources or skills involved and the physical layout of the unit or plant.

The first step is to determine the number of crews. We do this by reviewing a resource histogram (utilization) report for all resources and record the peak leveled number of craftsmen. So, we divide by two to arrive at the peak leveled number of crews, and add ten or twenty percent. This is a good rule of thumb for preliminary manpower planning. The reason you need to hire more men than scheduled is to compensate for absenteeism, dismissals, and additional work arising from inspection.

You may have several crews of any particular resource; even if you only have one generalized resource/skill designation such as "multicraft".

Start by sequencing the "hard" crafts that perform most of the mechanical work. These are usually Boilermakers, Pipefitters, Welders and Mechanics. If you sequence these crafts properly, all support crafts will follow accordingly and may not need to be sequenced.

Activities that are critical or near critical (having little float) should not be delayed, as the manpower required to accomplish them must be supplied as dictated by the schedule.

We can sequence the work that has float or slack by tying or restraining activities together, in such a fashion as to cause a crew to go from one job to the next as soon as the first one is completed.

The best way to this is with the help of a plot plan or equipment layout drawing of the unit / area. When sequencing the work, try to keep the movement or travel between jobs to a minimum. Causing workers to continually move from one end of the unit to the other is inefficient and can result in a significant waste of manpower.

Every time you tie or restrain activities to sequence manpower, check to see if that action resulted in making the activities critical (or near critical). Near critical activities have very little float or slack. If the activities have become critical, then it is best to undo the tie or restraint, otherwise you may be scheduling too tightly - increasing the probability for an overrun.

This is a trial-and-error method, but it is not too difficult to achieve, and the result will be a workable schedule with a realistic manpower utilization.

Efficient Manpower Utilization

Effective manpower use is achieved by eliminating:

  • Wait time
  • Movement (travel time)

The best way to achieve high efficiency is to sequence the work as described above, and then issue Shift Schedules that list fifteen (15%) percent or more work than can be accomplished. This keeps the schedule sufficiently flexible to accommodate the changing conditions that cause some work to not be available as scheduled (lack of permits, lack of equipment, etc.). Field supervisors will then always have sufficient work scheduled to keep everyone busy at all times.

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

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