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Is the Project Plan Just a Pretty Picture on a Wall?

Is the Project Plan Just a Pretty Picture on a Wall?

Is project and programme management still a silo in your business? Is the project plan just a pretty picture on a wall that is not really driving what your team does?
Even though the pressure to deliver projects on time is intensifying, most players within the oil & gas, utilities, construction and contracting industries still seem reluctant to integrate the project plan with the other systems and functions in the business.

Typically, project plans are developed in tools like Microsoft Project, Primavera or Asta. However, these tools are rarely integrated with systems supporting other common business functions such as procurement, engineering, operations, sub-contract management, construction and project cost control.

By its very nature, the industry has long been heavily document-based, with few fixed offices and staff predominantly based on site. With many interwoven teams and multiple businesses working together, tracking staff availability, scheduling, time-sheets and payroll is still one of the biggest overhead tasks. When it comes to the project plan, the sub-plans for these business functions are still typically created in Excel. So, not only are they NOT integrated with the primary systems supporting these functions, how does the management even know that these sub-plans are aligned with the pretty picture of the original project plan?

The problem of alignment is made even harder when the scope of a project changes constantly through contract variations. Whenever you have multiple overlapping systems – and therefore no single source of truth – there is a risk that one system will be updated but not the others.

With the introduction of new technologies like Building Information Modelling (BIM), we are starting to see partial integrations with the project plan. Some organisations, for example, are trying to link the plan to the BIM module to implement smart 4D construction simulation solutions. But even this only covers the construction phase of the project and does not attempt to create a single source of truth. It also relies on having a very well structured BIM model and very high quality data.

Why is there such a reluctance to integrate the plan? There are two main reasons:

1. Inertia: the business systems used in most construction and contracting businesses are not integrated and do not support a work breakdown structure that is integrated with the other functional areas of the business. They are still operating with many non-integrated systems and lots of Excel spreadsheets and there is no expectation that things should be different.

2. Culture: Simply put, people are still working in departmental silos and are reluctant to change as they may fear that if their data becomes visible, they can be held accountable. The functional areas all want to invent their own plans because that is what they trust and that is what they can control.

The industry needs to think about introducing an integrated approach to project management to ensure that projects run within time-scales and don´t go over budget. An integrated plan means everyone has to trust and work to one plan. The benefit is the organisation is working to one common goal and the project delivery performance will improve. To achieve this, an integrated solution which can manage the entire project life-cycle – such as our IFS Applications – is essential to project-based businesses like those in the oil & gas, utilities and construction and contracting industries.

New technologies like BIM will increasingly drive a move away from primarily document-driven processes to an integrated data-driven approach. The adoption of more sophisticated information inputs enables organisations – and potentially entire supply chains – to move away from isolated business processes, with their corresponding information silos, to processes that are integrated throughout the whole design, construction and asset management life-cycle.

The article is authored by Ian Fleming, Managing Director for IFS´s operations in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia regions.

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