Look, can you see it? Hold your head up! There is light at the end of your project. It’s not that far off too, it’s just that your process is too complicated to see through.

So why does the end of your project seem so far off? A common reason why it’s difficult to see through to the end of a project is that information and process silos have organically developed out of the ether. These silos act like black holes that block out the light.

Don’t fret though. This is a common problem for all kinds of infrastructure projects because one of the most well-known organisational challenges is a siloed culture. As a project manager or project owner, you just need to turn on the lights so that everyone can see.

Turn on the lights and open up your process

Turning on the lights involves an understanding of how silos develop and then eliminating working silos by adopting tools that open up your process for the benefit of all.

Break down the silos

Silos develop naturally because of the many different types of participant and each team or supplier’s natural tendency to keep information to themselves. As a result, information and knowledge become disparate and attached to specific individuals or teams. Silos encourage a lack of collaboration, they reduce your control and ownership of objectives is ultimately lost. This leads to inefficiencies, delays and increased risk.

Managers and owners need to be able to break down these barriers and have control over processes in order to retain project knowledge and reduce risk. This relies on being aware of where silos naturally develop combined with a proactive effort to break down the working silos which appear.

How do silos emerge?

Taking a gas producer as an example, the traditional model of operating an asset is for the owner to subcontract an EPC to manage the operational aspects and the EPC then subcontracts to independent contractors to deliver specific services.

In this world, risk is managed by the owner through the engagement of the EPC and reserving of some capital on the balance sheet in case something bad happens. However, this approach immediately encourages the development of knowledge and process silos that are under the control of the EPC and invisible to the owner. The result is that the owner progressively loses control of the maintenance/management processes and also the engineering data because they’ve all been siloed. As a result, risk can increase.

Technology to the rescue

Adoption of technology and tools has aided the execution of projects in various ways over the last few decades. Look at the way CAD has simplified and benefited the design and construction industry. It has fast-tracked construction processes as a result of design information being available faster. Similarly, organisations should adopt tools that allow projects to be managed and tracked in a fluid, proactive environment as opposed to a reactive environment – this is dynamic project management. Visibility and transparency become crucial. Data should be available in real time to drive informed decision making.

The adoption of adaptive and scalable technology can create a compound impact – one that results in long-term tangible benefits for organisations. But, technology alone is not the panacea. The benefits come about by changing the way that organisations work and manage projects. It also relies on changes in processes.

Adopting an open process

The ability to adopt dynamic project management principles is dependent on the implementation of a fluid and open process where all project participants contribute to improving the process. This involves a step change in how organisations work – a shift from working silos and teams working in isolation to a unified, collaborative environment. This major shift also requires the adoption of adaptive and scalable technology that enables processes to be standardised while still providing the flexibility to accommodate different environments.

So what does an open process look like? There are four simple principles:-

The process must be non-deterministic

Every business or project has its own set of working practises and approaches and the process must recognise that these are completely valid. The process shouldn’t try and force deterministic practises or approaches on the existing workflow. The goal of the open process is to enhance and enable existing approaches to deliver tangible benefits.

It is understandable that a large multimillion dollar project requires a lot more rigour and process governance than what would generally be required on a smaller project. Technology should be able to support these varying requirements and should be scalable to meet the specific needs of any particular project or organisation – big or small.

The process shouldn’t be interventionist.

Sudden change can be catastrophic for organisations and projects, so changes in the process need to be implemented gradually. To achieve long-term benefits, organisations need to be able to eliminate silos by adopting tools that can aid the execution of processes in a gradual, incremental approach. This means that moving to an open process should be supported by systems that allow scalability.

The process must bring knowledge to the fore and make it available for everyone

There are real and present dangers of losing control of knowledge on any project or facility. Typically the loss of knowledge capital is because the knowledge becomes locked away in inaccessible silos. The process must centralise this information in a system that is under control of the project owner and make it available as a single source of truth to all project participants. We call this ‘Knowledge Agglomeration’ and it provides a way to protect your project’s knowledge capital.

The owner must not delegate risk

Any responsible asset owner or project manager wants to maximise safety and productivity whilst delivering efficiencies. However, becoming distant from the process increases complexity as more parties become involved and reduces safety and productivity. In an open process, the owner must accept that the risk resides with them (it always has and it always will). Based on that premise, the logical perspective is that the owner must own the process and if everyone is to be involved in the process, it must be open. Removing the layers of complexity that are introduced by a siloed culture can be achieved by the owner assuming ownership of the process and requesting that all stakeholders participate in the running of their process. This turns the relationship around and puts the owner back into the driver’s seat. When the owner is in control, additional benefits such as Continuous Handover come into play.

Benefits of an open process that breaks down the silos

  • The owner is in control over the long term
  • Corporate knowledge is captured and retained
  • Delivers continuous handover benefits
  • Participants are working collaboratively and efficiently
  • Updates to information are direct and available to everyone
  • Delivers better decision making
  • Everyone focused on delivering their best work

Technology choices

Connect this strategy to the right technology stack and we have the potential to simplify the process, align all stakeholders and create a single source of the truth. This doesn’t mean one technology provider delivers everything but each one delivers the components they are best at doing and leveraging them in a way that delivers a robust and scalable platform. Separation can happen along the lines of visualisation, management of engineering information and execution of tasks.

One of the benefits of Connect is the ability to scale the functionality of the system to support short and long-term projects, both small and large. This scalability factor allows changes to be configured as soon as they are identified to accommodate variations in approach. Initially, Connect can be implemented for a commissioning project and then functionality can be extended to support ongoing maintenance and inspection routines when an asset moves into the operational phase. The core Publish technology within Connect allows processes to be extended as and when they evolve.

Connect has been used on both small and large, multi-party, multi-site, complex projects with proven ability to rapidly configure, publish and deploy a system tailored to the project at hand and to provide accurate, ongoing visibility on project progress. On large, multi-party projects, Contractors and Subcontractors can be given access to information in Connect which pertains to their scope of work while the Owner is able to view all the information downwards.