Is Integrated Project Management necessary?

Is there really a need for a single Integrated Project Management System? To answer this, we’ll first review the typical project or turnaround management landscape. A project passes through multiple stages during its lifecycle. These stages vary for each business and each project or program type, but basically they fall into the following 6 stages:

  1. Project Charter and Premise – The project or program’s requirements, the operating parameters, like budget and schedule, within which it will operate, etc. are defined in this stage. The project’s charter is developed, and accepted by management. The work breakdown structure (WBS) that will form the basis for controlling the project, is cloned into this project from a company standard, often in a document file. Project-based sign-offs are required to permit moving on to the 5, work-related, stages.
  2. Scope Development – this is the strategic work phase of the project. Decisions made in this stage affect the trajectory of the work scope within the project. Scope is developed in this stage and a rough order of magnitude estimate for each scope package helps to build an initial budget and schedule. Risk analysis on each scope package ensures that no unmitigated surprises lurk in the choices made prior to completion of this stage. On completion of each of the required screening steps, the scope package moves through the stage gate to the next stage. Tools used in this stage are primarily spreadsheets and documents, and these are attached to emails between stakeholders as the scope is discussed and solidified. A facility or plant uses a work order generation system, like an ERP, to help Operations and other stakeholders to identify work, i.e. scope packages.
  3. Estimate, Budget, Plan Development – this is the detailed, or tactical work phase. A detailed estimate, based on standard labor, equipment, materials and services that are required to complete each scope package. A spreadsheet is the chosen means for building a Detailed Estimate. A plan also takes shape in this stage. This involves the logical linking of the required resource-loaded job steps to get the scope completed. Scope packages may be planned individually or may be combined to produce composite planned work packages. Scheduling software, like Oracle P7 or Microsoft Project, is typically used to build the plan. Stakeholders such as QA/QC, Reliability, Operations and HSE (Safety) should review these plans to ensure that their concerns are addressed. Once the plans pass muster, as indicated with sign-offs, the scope is ready to move into the next stage.
  4. Commitment Development with Contracts and Procurement – in this stage, the logistical phase or the work, commitments are made by negotiating and signing contracts with service providers, and purchase orders with vendors. ERP or accounting systems are often used for writing purchase orders. Contracts are typically done in documents. A part of the budget gets committed as each contract, purchase order and field order is signed. Once the procured tools, materials and supplies are delivered, and the contractor’s workforce is mobilized, the work is ready to move into the next stage. Kitting the tools and supplies needed for each work package will prove useful to the work teams, saving time in the execution stage.
  5. Execution – this is the stage where the planned work finally gets executed. Contractor and in-house teams complete work, record progress and report time spent on each task. Spreadsheets are prevalent in this phase – with different ones being used for time tracking, progress tracking and work assignment. Schedules are also used with progress data transferred to and from spreadsheets. Additionally, some companies have a dedicated (silo) time system that is linked to gate entry – but with no link to the work being done. Progress (i.e. Earned value) is obtained in this stage. Due to ‘siloed’ data, it is not at the level of detail that the Actual (i.e burned or Incurred) is collected – which means its value is somewhat diminished.
  6. Close-out – this is the stage that precedes hand-over of the completed scope to the owner (ex. Operations). QA/QC, pre-commissioning and commissioning steps are completed in this stage. The owner signs off on each work scope and the plant or asset is ready to be activated and made operational. Costs derived from contractor invoices, costed inhouse manhours and equipment rentals are now in the reports and illustrate deviations from the budget for each WBS. In this stage, spreadsheets are used to produce daily, weekly and monthly reports – usually in laborious, late-night and weekend sessions.

Change Management

Additional work scope may be added at any point in the project’s life-cycle. This may occur based on opportunity – for example, more time is available or more manpower is available to do more work, or based on a risk assessment that requires mitigation-related work. Each incremental scope needs to be ushered through the 5 stages in order to ensure adherence to the company’s business rules.


The readiness of the project or turnaround for the start of execution is based on the first 4 stages – or on your preferred choices. This readiness is derived from the completeness of each of the pre-defined (business process based) tasks required to ensure adherence to your company’s business rules. These business rules are defined in a Procedure document and are shared with the team. As the rules are not integrated into systems today, no clear audit trail exists for confirmation of each of the sign-offs required by the rules.

Plant-specific Procedures

Each project at a plant or site uses a similar set of partner companies – vendors, service providers, contractors, etc. that are available close to the site. The high frequency of interaction between these companies and the project owner suggests that using a shared solution for them to review, and respond to, upcoming work and procurement needs would help to reduce the overhead work that is currently spent in owner’s supply chain team and in each of the service provider and vendor teams. B2B collaboration would provide an easy win. This is not present today.

Company-specific Procedures

Companies with more than one site can help ensure that all of their sites are on the same page with a single integrated solution. It is easy to quantify the huge savings that this would realize at each site, compared to having each manage their own duplicate spreadsheets and documents. Today, each site is its own silo – that also contains silos within itself. It’s ugly.

The Requirements

Your company’s many sites – each with it’s own projects and programs, with original and change and risk scope packages being managed in a consistent way, with connections to your partner companies – should all interact on a single system. All of your team conversations about work scope or asset or WBS or project would be maintained within the solution, and attached to the object of the conversation, and be easily viewable when you wish to do so. The integrated system would be able to integrate with other systems, like your ERP and your scheduling tools, if you wish to do so. Access to the system should be available from any workstation or mobile device around the globe. No costly additional software or hardware should be required to accomplish this set of requirements.

The Solution

If you are still reading this . . I’m glad you’re still with me! You are possibly rolling your eyes and saying that this is an impossible dream. Too much has already been invested in the current paradigm at too many workplaces. People already have spreadsheet and scheduling skills so who would want to make them re-learn anything new? Management would never consider such a radical move. ‘It sounds good. But you don’t know our company’ . .is a familiar refrain. Well, we have worked with many companies and are familiar with many ways of looking at a solution. The key ingredient to a successful migration to new thinking is the 100% support of management.

Full disclosure (in case you don’t already know): A few baby-boomers, along with a GenX and millennial teammates, designed and built TWIST, a solution to do all of the actions described here, plus a whole lot more. Using TWIST is as easy as learning to use a mobile app. You have heard a lot about digital transformation and disruption of existing business processes. These are no longer just ‘nice-to-haves’. Each day that you, and your company, kick the can down the road, imagine the lost revenue from clients who expect more from you, or the added cost due to your inefficient, silo-based, multiple company systems. PMI and AACEI are two organizations from whom we have absorbed much of our ethos, terminology and process flow in the project management field. So you can be assured that your expectations will be delivered in alignment with the standards that organizations like these foster.

In closing, if your site is using spreadsheets, documents, emails and other file-based modes, as a start and end of your project or program data management, in support of reporting and analytics, then your company will benefit from a senior-management-led initiative to integrate your project management processes. We’ll be glad to help you cross this data delta. (with due nod to Pete Smith’s great book: Crossing the Data Delta)