Featured Guest Blogger: Robert Mote
Motagg’s Blog by Robert Mote Let’s connect on LinkedIn: http://ca.linkedin.com/in/robertmote
Every major project carries out an exercise to determine the Lessons Learned for future projects based on the design and execution of the present project. When a project approaches maturation, project management decides to arrange a three-day Lesson Learned seminar across all disciplines. Some three weeks before the seminar, a spreadsheet is rushed out to all parties and engineers are sucking the pencils to come up with a lesson learned or hoping their colleagues will remember something useful. The engineer may be looking for a job, another project, thinking about holidays and, all too often, the activity of lessons learned is regarded a waste of time. All the engineers and designers who could usefully contribute have long left the project anyway. It is even harder to remember the day-to-day issues of design work long past that would benefit a Lesson Learned. As most engineers do not follow their design through to completion, they cannot know the reality of design is so different to site practices. Project management would consider it a success if ten to twenty items were captured for each discipline as Lessons Learned. Many engineers would also say that nobody reads the Lesson Learned of a previous project or follow them. I take a different viewpoint completely.
In a simplistic flowchart view that shows Design as the starting point and Completion as the end point it is more than a straight line between the two. Most engineers view their job as completed once the drawings are approved for construction and move on, rarely looking back or wondering how the design performs in the field. We can expand this mind map to more detailed levels but it serves to illustrate the opportunities for Lessons Learned. In the example diagram above, the link between Construction and Engineering is routed through Project Management and the link between Engineering and Completion is non-existent. Once Construction completes their scope of work, they have little interest in the Completion activities. Clearly, the greatest scope for Lessons Learned is within Project Management but Lessons Learned as a consequence of design and engineering decisions are not well documented. As an example, any deficiencies in material specifications can have repercussions for contractors and impact schedule. A common situation is the civil/structural foundation specification calls for cementitious grout to be used for the pump bases but the mechanical specifications calls for the API 686 to be followed. A newly and significantly revised standard is issued during the course of the project and the contractors ask if they should follow the latest revision which affects chipping of the pump foundations and changes the bedding grout to epoxy. Additionally, the intent of the latest recommendations calls for no shimming and extra chipping work than specified. Contractor practice has been to leave shims in so they claim they do not know how to align the pumps without the shims being left in. This affects over 300 pumps and the cost impacts are considerable. The discussion delays the project months as the impact is measured and the required course of action is validated with the vendors, operators and a multitude of engineers. A major problem in mega-projects is the one-size-fits-all philosophy. After all the discussion, as there was no discrimination in application of the rules, one large vendor equipment package measuring 7 m (23’) x 21 m (67’) which included a simple medium-sized pump, now required a massive 700 bags of epoxy grout with 2400 bags of cementitious grout for filler. None of this material was allowed for in concept, design or estimate. In the simple example, a number of lessons learned emerge:
- Specifications should define which code to be followed with a date.
- Applicability, limits and exclusions of codes and standards should be stated.
- Civil/Structural specifications should be aligned to mechanical specifications.
- Shimming practices must be detailed and specified.
- Early alignment of contractors with the specifications saves time.
- One mechanical engineer should be assigned the responsibility for the pump base design and alignment activity with contractors.
- Notes on Civil drawing should show grouting requirements, for the estimate purpose.
- Notes on Civil drawing should also identify no shims and clear extents of grout, qualified by squad check through vendors and mechanical.
- Civil drawings must state extent and chipping requirements on foundation.
- Verify with Vendor at time of purchase exactly what grout is required.
These are ten lessons learned. There are more. The Lessons Learned is a daily habit. If you write a journal with one page per day, leave the last four lines of your page reserved for your lessons learned. Maybe some days are blank, but others get chock full. Look for lessons learned of everyday. This requires you to talk to people and ask direct questions. Take an interest in your design through the lifecycle process and ask for feedback and write them down. I started my career with calculations and spreadsheets learning from the direct experience, and seeing the knowledge, of the matured engineer applied to my design through their lessons learned. I get it now. I am fascinated how we think we are going to do a better job when we do not a have a mechanism or a feedback loop to improve our knowledge, only a defensive posture. I have spent the last five years, hearing engineers defend and justify their design because they did it like that on the last job and nobody said anything. I write my journal in Excel and have one worksheet for Lessons Learned. After five years on the same project when the client asks for lessons learned, they get over 300 lessons learned and 300 photographs of things to see. I am fortunate that I have seen a project from the grassroots of design, followed it through project execution and seen what happens on site, all the way to turnover. My emphasis and personal interest is on the quality of the engineering design to improve execution, ensure smoother construction and achieve fast turnover. Armed with my Lessons Learned, I know it is possible to save millions, save months in the construction schedule and improve project performance just through improved engineering. In the next project startup, I will be able to align the design team to the Lessons Learned, assign specific issues to specific members, create study group that would report their findings back to the team. Nobody can read 300 lessons learned and say ‘got it’. That is not the purpose. However, I can walk the team through photographs, telling stories; create a portfolio collating the examples for the team member in visual form. I can break the lessons learned into group and assign to study groups. In meetings, we can record lessons learned issues as they occur, training everybody to look for them and record them. Along every step of the way, I have listened to engineers, designers, estimators, QA/QC inspectors, fabricators, module yard assemblers, contractors, designers, site foremen, warehouse workers, heavy lifts people, safety, scaffolders, tank welders and more. They all had something to say. Small ideas, big ideas, comments, observations all recorded as they happened. If I didn’t do this how many Lessons Learned would I think of? Probably ten at the most.