Control Engineering Online Update for November 11, 2005


November 11, 2005


Sponsored by Schneider Electric

An experienced control system integrator explains how to save money and time, plus get better results on every automation project. Not through some magical new technology, but through systematic management of tasks and people.

Consistent Project Management
Automation project leaders typically focus most on direct project expenses and sequences. Meanwhile, lack of a consistent project approach, inadequate preparation, and communication misfires contribute to cost and budget overruns—project after project. Worse, these deficiencies can lead to unfinished projects, capabilities shortfalls, and the impression that the project leaders are ineffective.

Making matters more difficult for manufacturing project managers is that many companies have minimized engineering and maintenance staffs. To gain actual savings from these reductions, remaining staff must operate more effectively.
A consistent approach to execution, preparation, and communication can help any automation team achieve its project goals.
Control through consistency
As a project manager, your initial approach can be as simple as a checklist shared with every team member. Or it can be customized software integrated into your company’s enterprise management system. Between these two options lie a growing number of applications that might be suited to your situation.
Some companies even go so far as to add project management staff but, as a process automation system integrator with a great deal of experience in project management, we prefer the lower overhead approach of training existing staff in project management.
Whatever your approach, your goal is to reduce surprises and calmly manage those certain to occur. That’s control. A consistent approach also enables you to review and improve your process.

Project preparation
The need to prepare is clear when a project requires equipment to be shutdown. Even if production runs uninterrupted, preparation reduces unpleasantness and delays. Procedures should include:

  • Defining achievable and meaningful objectives.

  • Reasonable expectations. Can it be done? What are we likely to get?

  • Likely costs and potential escalations.

  • Clear scope. This doesn’t mean you must bypass savings or capabilities discovered mid-project. It means being able to identify and control scope creep.

  • Confirmed existing equipment and resources.

  • Confirmed access to all areas and ingredients, including people, electricity, water, communications, drainage, storage, and entry and exit limitations.

  • A real-world schedule. Review the final time and costs similar prior projects. Be optimistic, but also realistic.

If a shutdown is required, pre-stage what you can beforehand to minimize its duration.
Communicate with acknowledgement
During the preparation phase, contact team members to verify capabilities, project roles, and potential issues. This can be done by group or individual meetings, phone calls, or written communications.
With email, messages can get stuck in your out basket, deleted by spam filters, and missed in the daily deluge. An online project collaboration center with manual (never automatic) message acknowledgment and a shared document library is a better choice.
Above all, be aware that things will go awry with project communications. Verifiable communication procedures improve your ability to monitor, respond, and move ahead. Project changes are bad if they result from poor planning. Being ready and able to identify, evaluate, and select capabilities and savings uncovered along the way is highly desirable.
No system is good if people listen and read too fast for comprehension. Message senders and respondents can help by being concise and remembering that haste makes waste.
Is it worth it?
Good project management methodology helps you control costs. It also helps you reduce errors. Still, the most important benefit might be effectiveness: the ability to get meaningful work done. Consistency, preparation and communication are your tools.
Richard Ciammaichella is director, control systems integration, The RoviSys Co.;

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