Turnaround Project Planning Primer

Information Requirements

The foundation for effective project management in a turnaround is reliable information. The planner’s basic function is to gather, develop, organize, review and disseminate information. Through his effort everyone involved is kept informed so that nothing is left to their imagination or improvisation. The information required to plan, estimate, schedule and manage a turnaround is extensive and often difficult to obtain - posing a serious challenge even to experienced planners.

The required information can be roughly classified in the following categories:

  • Cost
  • Time
  • Manpower
  • Safety
  • Quality
  • Tools & Equipment
  • Materials
  • Coordination
  • Technical
  • Work Scope

You may notice that in order to determine the cost, all other information must be developed first. Generally, the information is developed from the "ground up"; the order in which the information categories are listed above does not necessarily reflect how and when they become available, or their relative importance.


Cost estimates are developed from all the other information categories. It is the consequence of many decisions affecting staffing, overtime, safety measures, quality requirements, procedures, contracting, etc.

Cost, being one of the most important factors, forces the planner to consider and evaluate alternative methods, schedules and strategies with an eye towards achieving the lowest cost while satisfying all other requirements (of time, safety and quality).

There are, however, different cost categories:

  • Direct Labor Costs - determined by the manhours estimated to execute the scope. Direct labor can be further categorized as:
    • Firm Price Costs - obtained from lump sum (fixed price) contracts (for items such as scaffolding, hydroblasting, etc.).
    • Time and Material Costs - also referred to as "cost-plus" work - calculated by applying an agreed-to hourly rate to the manhour estimate.
  • Indirect / Overhead Labor Costs - determined as a function of direct labor costs. Ex. Time sheet clerks, expediters, etc.
  • Supervision Costs - determined by the manpower staffing required by the schedule and the turnaround organization chart.
  • Tool and Equipment (Rental) Costs - determined by both manpower staffing, work content and turnaround duration.
  • Extra Work - repair work not included in the work scope (usually determined after equipment inspection during the turnaround).
  • Contingency - a "safety cushion" added to allow for extra, unforeseen work without exceeding the A.F.E. budget. Contingency usually amounts to about 15% of the total costs.

The above (generalized) cost categories can contain "hidden costs" which good planning and scheduling tries to minimize or eliminate. These "hidden costs" arise from:

  • Incomplete definition of the nature and extent of the repair work.
  • Amount of rework caused by improper procedures, material failure, degree of difficulty, etc.
  • Unintentional delays caused by improper coordination, safety considerations, strikes, work slow-down, absence of supervisors from the work place during work hours, etc.
  • Necessity to accelerate the schedule for an earlier completion.
  • Changes in the methods or procedures used to accomplish the work.


Time (duration) estimates are obtained from several sources: a project template, historical records, experienced craftsmen / supervisors, and project planning software. As with cost, time is affected by many decisions concerning staffing, shift and work-week length, safety procedures, quality guidelines, methods used to perform the work, etc.

Time is a more flexible variable than cost in most cases. Therefore, the planner usually concerns himself with determining (estimating) the most realistic, workable duration for every activity in the turnaround. The sum of the durations for all activities on the critical path (or the longest sequence of related tasks in the turnaround) will determine the overall length of the turnaround. The resulting time span may be acceptable to management, or it might be too long, and ways to shorten the schedule must be examined. In some cases, the turnaround can be extended to reduce costs (overtime, supervision, equipment rentals, indirects, etc.) at a time when the plant can be idled for some time. So, time and cost are closely linked ("time is money").

There are different kinds of time that should be incorporated into a turnaround project plan:

  • Activity Time - the time required for a crew to perform a specific task (i.e., open a manway).
  • Lag Time - time span required for any operation not controlled by crews - such as cooling down equipment for entry, neutralizing/acidizing, stress relieving, curing time, etc.

These two (generalized) time categories above do not include time loss originated by these unavoidable delays:

  • Weather - affecting activities exposed to storms, etc.
  • Safety - evacuation of the work place, lack of permits, etc.
  • Equipment - breakdown, unavailability, idle waiting time, etc.
  • Manpower - under staffing / unavailability, strikes or work slowdown, etc.
  • Productivity - a slowing down due to fatigue, etc.

As a rule, it is not a good idea to "build in" extra time in your estimates to take care of delays caused by the above categories. If you do build extra time into your estimates, then there will be a very high probability that all of the time will be spent to perform the defined work (Parkinson’s Law - "Work expands to fill the time allowed.").

Extra time required to compensate for productivity loss should be considered when calculating a manhour/cost summary as a global entry/factor. Work orders and schedules should always reflect the original base time estimates.


Planning and scheduling addresses two main types of activities: productive work and logistical / support work. The latter, being dependent upon the first, can be planned after all inspection, repair / replacement work has been identified and planned.

Manpower information is developed from a knowledge of the trades or skills, and the scope of the work for each work order.

Total manpower is the sum or combination of all trades/skills required to execute the defined work. There are two basic groups:

  • Plant Personnel - maintenance mechanics, electricians, instrument technicians, etc.
  • Contract Personnel - scaffolders, pipe fitters, boiler makers, welders, laborers, insulators, refractory applicators, stress relieving technicians, specialty trades, etc.

Manpower can be union (organized, along trade or skills), or non-union (open shop). If your turnaround is going to be executed by union trades, you must secure a list of them along with the union agreement books to see what jurisdictions each trade encompasses. This way you can assign the correct trades or resources to every activity, in order to avoid any disputes and potential work interruptions.

If your turnaround is going to be executed by non-union labor, you should still attempt to correctly identify the type of skill needed to perform each activity. Even though you may have a "multi-craft" labor force, it is useful to be aware of the labor requirements for the different skill-sets of multi-craft labor (blinding, pipe fabrication, tower and tray work, etc.).


Safety guidelines play an important role in the planning and scheduling of a turnaround. The safety department will issue a procedure which combines both government (OSHA in the U.S.A.) guidelines and the plant’s own rules for a safe, accident-free turnaround.

Two basic safety concerns must be addressed. These are:

  • Safety of all personnel
  • Safety of the plant equipment

Personnel safety that requires the expenditure of manpower involves:

  • Scaffolding
  • Obtaining permits
  • Tagging equipment for entry to work
  • Fire watch / Hole watch
  • Neutralizing / Decontaminating equipment
  • Installing air movers
  • Cooling down equipment
  • Installing temporary lighting
  • Wearing protective equipment
  • Insulating for personnel protection
  • Installing blinds
  • Testing (Hydrostatic, X-Ray, etc.)
  • Stress relieving
  • Temporary dust / runoff containment barriers
  • General clean-up
  • Evacuation due to emergencies

All of the above, with the exception of emergency evacuations, can and should be incorporated into the work order scope, and planned along with productive work.

In addition, all activities defined in a work order should be as explicit and informative as possible, in particular to warn against any potential hazards.

Replacing bolts and gaskets are also safety concerns, even though normally viewed as operations / maintenance concerns. Bolts should always be placed into buckets to prevent accidents and facilitate cleaning.


The quality of the repair work has an impact on time and cost. Quality guidelines should be prepared and issued to establish the minimum acceptable level desired.

Poor quality can result in accidents, rework, equipment failure, higher wear and tear, and the attendant impact on manpower safety, equipment and operation safety, plus their associated costs.

Quality can be specified in the project planning by indicating the amount of testing required:

  • X-rays
  • Pressure tests
  • Ultrasonic/infrared inspection
  • Visual inspection (before and after repairs)
  • Materials/compounds curing time
  • Urgency in performing the work
  • Quality of spares, materials, commodities, etc.
  • Experience level of the workers
  • Other

Four basic concerns govern the acceptable level of quality:

  • Safety (preventing equipment failures)
  • Production (desired productive run life span for unit)
  • Cost (lowest cost for useful life span of repairs)
  • Schedule (extra time needed for welding, inspection)

In work involving extensive welding, the planner must consider sufficient time for X-rays and testing, and the amount of probable rework.

Heat exchanger testing procedures should be reviewed to ensure that testing activities are adequately provided in every work order, with sufficient time and manpower estimates, and indicate the testing medium, testing pressures and time required to hold the pressure. Often, related exchangers can be tested simultaneously, which saves time and manpower.

Tools and Equipment

Tools and equipment are a function of the work as defined. As technology changes, new tools and equipment become available to do a certain job. Therefore it is important to identify the tools and equipment that will be used to do a certain job - they have an impact on time, manpower and cost.

Tool and equipment availability is critical to an uninterrupted work flow. Strategic placement of tool cribs, to minimize worker travel distance (and time) is essential. Often a tool trailer is located conveniently close to the unit being turned around.

Equipment coordinators can satisfy the requirements for cranes using two-way radios to communicate both with equipment operators and field supervisors.

In planning to supply an adequate quantity of tools and cranes, it must be kept in mind that a certain amount of loss and breakdown will occur. For example, if five cherry pickers are called for in the schedule, you might consider using six to have a back-up in case of mechanical breakdown. Tools also break or are lost/stolen, so you should instruct your supplier to have on hand more than what the schedule requires.


A bill of materials can and must be developed for each work order. From the engineering files (or from past turnaround purchasing requisitions) you can obtain all of the information needed to prepare a materials list: bolt and gasket sizes, quantity, material specifications, tray dimensions and type, metallurgy, refractory specifications, catalyst type, etc.

Most materials are a direct replacement item (bolts, gaskets, valves, etc.). Some may be refurbished and reused (i.e. valves). Catalyst may be either replaced by new or regenerated for reuse.

Materials must be identified, requisitioned, purchased, warehoused, tagged and issued or deposited at or near their intended equipment ahead of time. Purchasing / delivery lead time for some materials could affect the schedule, so it is important to purchase these long delivery items as early as practical.

As materials are received from vendors, they should be inspected (and tested; i.e. valves) to avoid any surprises (and delays) during the turnaround.

All work orders should list the required materials to facilitate requisitioning them from the warehouse. This will minimize or eliminate delays and confusion when the materials are needed in the field.


In simple terms we refer to coordination as letting the right hand know what the left hand is doing. It involves communication so that timely decisions can be made by the various groups involved in the turnaround.

Two basic items are required to coordinate all necessary information:

  • Organizational chart, detailing responsibilities
  • Departmental procedures

The planner must ensure that the information needs of all those identified on the turnaround organization chart are satisfied in a consistent, timely manner. He also should follow-up to ensure positive feedback on his information, where needed (i.e., progress updates, staffing level changes, extra work, etc.).

The schedules detail the participation of different crews or groups to get some work done, i.e., unheading a heat exchanger. This means that after most bolts have been loosened or removed, a cherry picker must be summoned to lower it to the ground. Even though cherry picker activity is scheduled along with all other related work, its actual usage must be coordinated in the field as the need arises, because their schedule is usually coordinated by a dispatcher.

Coordination with contractors is very important. Examples are: Heat exchanger bundle cleaning priority, outside shop repairs, crane utilization, etc.

Poor coordination, or the lack of it, results in disruption of the work flow, delays, schedule extensions, and increased costs. Not to be ignored are the political consequences: rejecting responsibility for the problems, assigning blame, a breakdown in communication and cooperation, etc.

Rigidly departmentalized organizations run a high risk of such breakdown in coordination. This requires the planner to make special efforts to overcome this problem. In such cases the planner must resort to more formal transmittals of information, requests for information, calls to meetings, etc. Of course, having to contend with added paperwork (transmittals, memos, etc.) poses a bureaucratic burden that can detract from a planner’s time as well as slow down communication.

The ideal situation is to create a "task force" teamwork spirit of cooperation - resulting in an easy, rapid, informal communication. In other words, communication and feedback; without delays, is the essential ingredient of good coordination. Coordination should strive to bring about cooperation, safety, quality and lowered costs while avoiding delays and duplication of effort.


The technical information required concerns the material specifications of the equipment and spare parts, bolts, gaskets, catalyst, refractory, etc.. This information should be available from the engineering or inspection files, or from previous turnaround material requisitions.

The technical data has an impact on work order definition and estimates, as repairs on some vessels may be very simple and straightforward, depending on the design and metallurgy, while others might require passivating, stress relieve, etc.. Also, repair work time varies with the diverse metals employed in the manufacture of the equipment (carbon steel, stainless, exotic alloys, etc.).

Making this information available to the field supervisors is just as important as the schedule, in order to ensure that the adequate resources will be at hand to make the repairs in full accordance with the specifications.

Work Scope

The work scope is usually developed by the Inspection, Maintenance and Operations (Production) departments. A preliminary work list is developed and revised. Cost of repairs and the time required to perform them is a factor when deciding to include or exclude work from the scope.

The turnaround work scope usually covers two main categories:

  • Inspection and repairs
  • A.F.E. for engineered items (capital expense)

It may also include a third category, which consists of insurance claim work for a sinistered unit.

While the maintenance department usually concerns itself with the former, the latter is generally managed by the engineering department. So, in most cases, the turnaround planner only concerns himself with maintenance inspection and repair work. But where new equipment or piping is installed under an A.F.E. (capital work), the planner must schedule and coordinate any tie-ins to the existing plant or unit, in harmony with the engineering schedule.

Often, the work scope changes, and continues to develop all throughout the turnaround. The reason for this is simply that the extent of the repair work can not be established until the equipment has been opened, cleaned and inspected.

A cutoff date is usually established a few weeks prior to the turnaround, by which date all known or anticipated work has to be identified and scoped. This allows for an orderly preparation of all estimates, schedules, etc.

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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.