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The Effectiveness of PM Software

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Bahari Sulaiman
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With many years of experience in planning for Oil & Gas and power generation projectsm, I noticed that the use of PM software is merely for reporting purposes only. Very seldom the PM software is used for real planning and scheduling. Is there any comment???

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razif r
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PM Software.

PM = Project Management

Software = Tools

How could we expect the cluster of people who are lack in Project Managemnt knowledge and practice to fully understand and utilise the Project Management Tools.

No doubt it was stated / claimed "for report only".


peace
Bohary,
good PM software should include customization tools. If there are none then this software cannot be effectively used in most of the projects. But it does not mean software adjustment - I don’t like the case when customization means additional programming.
Best Regards,
Vladimir
Bahari Sulaiman
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Sorry for being silent.
I guess both of you, Vladimir & Bernard are dealing with some sort of customised PM system. What I meant by customization of the PM software to suits certain requirements is exactly as what the system you both used. I was, in fact we, the users /visitors of this Planning Planet were being introduced to ATC Professional S/Down system and the Spider project system. Thanks to both of you.
To make it clearer, let me give an example of an engineering design project, the products of the project are the engineering calculations, specifications, drawings, sketches, etc.(normally called as deliverables) What we normally put in the PM software are the activities to achieve these deliverables. We normally used difference system for the deliverables, i.e, database or spreadsheet. Therefore, 2 system being used at least for this purpose. And needed somekind of "computer instruction" what I meant by "customization" in order to make them effective.
Same goes to the other scenerios as well, the timesheet, manhour database and the schedule integration, document transmittal, etc.


Perhaps I would say that, the PM system which allow a kind customization is more effective than the general PM software. Or I would rather use the ATC S/down system for the turnaround planning, else if I still used the standard PM software, then I need to have difference set of procedure for difference type of projects, then again it is not guarantee that it is being followed as per procedure.



Bernard,

I would like to see your package in action too.
As for static schedules - when you decide to level resources in some project Spider Project suggests you several options - to use some standard leveling heuristics, to optimize resource usage, or to keep the order of work that was accepted in some previous version. It is easy.

Best Regards,
Vladimir
Bernard Ertl
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Vladimir,

I expect that you would need to experience our system in action to understand the interplay between critical path and critical mass analysis. The schedules are extremely workable and reliable. We’ve been managing turnarounds for over 25 years now (we started out as a consultancy in the field developing the system for our own use).

I look forward to seeing Spider Project in action during a turnaround to see for myself how it achieves near static schedules while leveling resources with variable scope, resources and progress.

Bernard Ertl
InterPlan Systems - ATC Professional Shutdown / Turnaround Management System
Bernard,
in our projects there are ALWAYS resource restricitions. And resource restricitions never are artificial - it may be space, it may be some machinery, some qualified workers. Without taking these constraints into consideration you will produce unrealistic schedule. And besides hiring additional workforce during turnaround process is not practical.
As I wrote in my earlier posting there will not be dramatic changes of resource constrained schedules - our users may decide if to follow the earlier defined sequence of work or to switch to another schedule with less duration.
Vladimir Liberzon
Bernard Ertl
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Vladimir,

I would amend your comment as follows:

"when resources are restricted traditional critical path calculations by themselves are useless"

It is possible to utilize critical path scheduling as long as resource restrictions are analyzed. We do it in a different manner (via critical mass analysis). We have been doing it successfully for many years now.

I read the document you referenced. Your RCP system is leveling the schedule and removing flexibility from the field in managing/mitigating problems. IMO, your RCP system is better suited to projects with a more static execution environment than a turnaround.

Our critical mass analysis provides the same early warning alert when resources are insufficient to complete non-critical work within the timeframe of the critical path as your RCP system without adding artificial constraints to the schedule. I’m not sure how you are determining which resources from a resource pool will be the driver for delaying unrelated tasks (using the same resource type), but we prefer to allow field supervision the flexibility to manage these cases for non-critical work based upon current field conditions and situations. In a turnaround, there is typically more work available at any given time than a resource can handle. For non-critical jobs, it does not really matter (from a scheduling perspective) which job they work as long as they are working and making progress. Field supervisors are in the best position to direct them in the most efficient manner.

Should a resource become constrained (ie. insufficient to complete remaining non-critical scheduled work within the time frame of the critical path), management may elect (and almost always will in the case of a turnaround) to hire additional labor or cut scope to eliminate the possibility that non-critical work (when scheduled as straight CPM) will extend beyond the critical path (or longest sequence or resource unrestrained work that drives the unit turnover date). If I understood your paper correctly, either of these cases will cause dramatic changes to the RCP schedule. IMO, dramatic changes to schedules based upon leveling algorithms tend to cause field superintendents to lose confidence in the plan and abandon support of the schedule.

Bernard Ertl
InterPlan Systems - ATC Professional Shutdown / Turnaround Management System
Bernard,
when resources are restricted traditional critical path calculations are useless. Activities are sequenced taking into consideration not only network logic but also resource limitations. So we calculate Resource Critical Path (Goldratt called it Critical Chain) and resource constrained floats. You may read about it at http://www.spiderproject.ru/library/pmie01_rcp.pdf.
Best Regards,
Vladimir
Bernard Ertl
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All critical, near critical and process critical work always have dedicated resources (usually using the best available talent). CPM is very effective at controlling the critical path. We measure Critical Mass separately to ensure resources do not get constrained/overloaded for non-critical work.

The benefit of our approach is that there is more flexibility in the schedule. This is important in turnaround situations as obstacles to working the schedule are normal and expected every shift.

Bernard Ertl
InterPlan Systems - ATC Professional Shutdown / Turnaround Management System
Thank you for clarification. Spider Project is used for maintenance projects at Ryazan Refinery Plant. And yes it is necessary to perform all necessary works during narrow time window and project scope is very uncertain. When the first project with the use of our software was finished we asked local engineers if they see any improvement. They answered - yes, it is the first time when all necessary work was done and nothing left to the next time window.
In such projects we simulate risks, create alternative schedules and fragnets that should be included if necessary. Adding fragnet is mouse click operation.
I remind you that CPM does not work when resources are restricted. In this case total floats calculated by most PM software are useless. We calculate Resource Critical Path (or Critical Chain) and resource constrained floats. In very large schedules you can speed up calculations not calculating floats when you play with resources, but final schedule should be created with float calculation. In any case these calculations take minutes. Spider Project calculate processes in seconds and is used to simulate production and manufacturing processes.
Best Regards,
Vladimir
Bernard Ertl
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Vladimir,

No worries. Turnarounds are also often called shutdowns, outages, I&Ts, and other names. They all refer to maintance projects where a refinery (or chemical plant) must shut down a continuous process unit (it doesn’t apply to batch operations) for maintenance and repair. There are strong incentives to finish the projects as quickly as possible to minimize revenue loss (due to lost production) and costs due to the expanded work forces (and overtime pay) and equipment rentals employed.

Resource leveling is tricky because there are workplace saturation issues that cannot be addressed with traditional leveling algorithms. Leveling algorithms are not practical because the scope is not static (in addition to progress update irregularities). The scope grows as inspections are performed and add-on work is identified.

The Spider Project calculation times you reference are impressive, but critical path analysis (floats) are necessary to maintain focus on potentially rapidly changing priorities in a turnaround. The speed of calculation is critical because humans are not perfect. It is often necessary for schedules to be recalculated several times every update. There is a very constrained window of time for generating necessary progress reports and shift schedules so that they can be of use.

We typically begin the update process 2 hours before shift change with field personnel forecasting progress to the end of the shift. With a high degree of detail in the plan, the margin of error in estimating/forecasting progress is statistically negligent. Planners use the 2 hour window to update the schedule, incorporate necessary add-on work, generate and distribute all reports.

Earned progress is measured in terms of manhours (purposefully excluding equipment) earned against the estimates. Actual/accrued manhours may differ and analyzing the differences can aid productivity studies or highlight other areas of concern. In general, turnarounds are driven by manhours (effort) and not equipment costs (or materials). If you control/manage the labor, you will control/manage the costs in a turnaround.

Bernard Ertl
InterPlan Systems - ATC Professional Shutdown / Turnaround Management System
Bernard,
my problem - I am not sure what is TurnAround. English is not my first language. But I found features that you describe as turnaround projects specific in many projects we managed or scheduled.
I think that manpower leveling is not enough. You should manage quantities. And traditional leveling is necessary if your resources are restricted. But I agree that most software packages have poor resource leveling algorithms. I agree that resource leveling heuristics can produce totally different schedules from update to update. That is why we included in Spider Project resource leveling option that allows to follow previous schedule version order of activity execution. I agree that this option is necessary.
Caspian pipeline construction schedule consisted of near 9000 activities (only pipeline construction phase) and used 1145 resource types. Its leveling takes less than 2 minutes. Activity durations were measured in hours. Another project (ship building) consisted of 92000 activities and its leveling takes about 5 minutes (though in this case we did not calculate resource constrained floats to speed calculations). With calculating floats it takes more but still reasonable time. I just don’t understand what do you mean by necessary speed of calculation.
As I wrote earlier our software simulates shifts and you can plan and track shift works. It is not easy because before scheduling you just don’t know which shift will perform some activities and how the work should be distributed among shifts. Does your software do the same?
Usually our package is installed on the site and at the end of the shift the progress is entered and the plan for the next shift is calculated. Did you mean this?
And we monitor volumes of work that have been done, hours spent, materials utilized, money spent. I don’t understand what is percent complete without specification - percent of what?
Project resources include equipment and machinery - so manhours are not enough in any case. It is necessary to know the physical work volumes that have been performed.
I wonder why in most packages everything is measured in time units.
Best Regards,
Vladimir
Bernard Ertl
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Vladimir,

You are correct. Most of the issues I have presented previously are tied more to the methodology than features of the software (with the exception of the scheduling of post-t/a work). While planners may have the option of using PMPs in a similar fashion for some of the issues I have presented, ATC Professional requires the methodology be followed.

There are differences between turnarounds and construction projects. See our short Projects Vs. Turnarounds comparison. ATC Professional was designed to address those differences intrinsically.

Here are a few software specific items in line with your original question:

- ATC Professional uses a different method for Resource Management. It does not level the schedule (adjusting tasks in an attempt to create a static schedule for optimum resource distribution). It levels manpower in resource reporting (histograms, etc.) to assure that management knows the schedule is feasible in the required timeframe and with a certain threshold per resource.

This allows field supervision flexibility in determining their work priorities based upon ever changing conditions in the field. It also prevents inefficiencies from being built into the schedule (where traditional resource leveling may not distribute the resources logically from a logistics standpoint).

This also has the benefit of producing schedules that do not change drastically from update to update as resources are leveled differently (which can destroy credibility with the field supervision and breakdowns in cooperation).

- ATC Professional’s scheduling engine is optimized for handling large schedules. This allows planners to schedule with a high degree of detail - ensuring better quality estimating and progress reporting. See my second post in this thread for an example. The speed is critical to ensuring that updates can be produced in a timely manner every shift (allowing near real time reporting for the beginning of the next shift.

I have yet to see a PMP perform adequately in producing the necessary information at shift change. And yes, I have spent quite some time in the field (and in many cases where new clients have utilized our system in parallel to their former system for testing).

I suspect that this is the major reason that PMPs are not used to drive turnarounds. Either the necessary information cannot be produced in a timely fashion, or the scope has been summarized and the information produced is not adequate. Of course, this is just my opinion and my experience.

- Progress updating in ATC Professional does not require the input of time sheet actual hours (though it is supported and encouraged for earned value analysis). We have a streamlined process allowing % complete data fed from the field (and corresponding 1-1 with scheduled items). We track both earned and actual manhours.

Bernard Ertl
InterPlan Systems - ATC Professional Shutdown / Turnaround Management System
Bernard,
I wanted to find things that are necessary for the proper use of our software and require software adjustment. Of course I believe that special tools are tuned to the specific tasks and thus have some advantages in their area of application (like predefined reports). Creating additional WBS may be considered as such adjustment but I anticipated something more serious.
Spider Project is widely used in Russia. But it is not promoted abroad, only those who found the software themselves can buy it. So it is not strange that you did not know about its existence (it would be strange in case you live in Russia). But I prefer to consider our discussion as methodological and not about some special software. What software features are necessary and are usually absent, what needs to be adjusted, etc. Of course I estimate your advises comparing them with the Spider Project features.
You wrote that "Most PMPs guide planners to input data in spreadsheet forms with attached bar charts". Yes, it is common and Spider Project supports it too. But we insist on creating corporate references (in Spider Project) and typical activities will be estimated basing on the corporate norms automatically. It is necessary on the corporate level. We suggest to ban the possibility of the manual input of typical activity data.
I don’t understand about cost segregation. I wrote about creating additional WBS structures to be able to group activities and their data (including costs) in any possible way.
I’ll be glad to discuss any approaches to project scheduling, budgeting, resourcing. I think that it would be easier to discuss different features one by one. I hope that in this case somebody will join our discussions.
Best Regards,
Vladimir
Bernard Ertl
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Vladimir,

I composed a lengthy post for you and lost it when I hit the ’Post Now’ button and got an Error 500. I’m tired now and don’t have the energy to recreate the whole thing again. Here’s the abridged version:

- ATC Professional is a tool designed to facilitate a turnaround specific methodology which you can read about from the primers available on the ATC Professional page of our web site. It is difficult to describe the differences between ATC Professional and PMPs adequately though this medium. Even new clients do not understand it fully until the first time they actually implement it.

- I have never seen Spider Project. I had never heard of it until I asked you about it here in the PP forums. Please do not view my comments about PMPs as pertaining to it as I have no experience to comment.

- Most PMPs guide planners to input data in spreadsheet forms with attached bar charts. It encourages planners (consciously and unconsciously) to adjust their plans according to how the work is being scheduled.

ATC Professional separates the planning from the scheduling. All work is estimated, planned, reviewed, adjusted, approved and budgeted before any scheduling takes place. This leads to improved confidence and cooperation in using the eventual schedule since the field and management have already bought into the plans.

Add-on work during the turnaround is similarly planned (and routed for approval in case of discretionary items) before being incorporated into the schedule.

- Yes, non-working time is when no work is being performed. Most PMPs display work scaled over periods of non-working time. This can lead to hard to find errors when work is coded with the wrong calendar (or work basis). It would appear from your question that you have not read the white paper I referenced previously (nor the screenshot that it references).

Improving the clarity of the schedule and removing possible fudge factors helps achieve greater confidence in the schedule.

- ATC Professional’s pre-defined reports have been developed based upon field experience and client feedback over the last 25 years. All possible information needs are addressed (including ones that the client may not think about).

- Post-t/a work in ATC Professional is not included in EF & LF schedule calculations so that all Pre-T/A and T/A work is the focus of the critical path for achieving unit turnover for start-up. The Post-T/A code is not just for cost segregation.

Bernard Ertl
InterPlan Systems - ATC Professional Shutdown / Turnaround Management System
Bernard,
maybe I do not understand something in your posting. Let me briefly describe corresponding features of Spider Project.

I don’t understand the meaning of separation planning and scheduling. In Spider Project you can create any number of work and resource breakdown structure for the same project to be able to estimate projects from the different points of view and to produce any kind of reporting. We advise to use at least three - results, process and responsibility WBS. You are free to use other structures too. You can switch between structures with a mouse click. It is easy to receive reports on different contracts using Contract Breakdown Structure (one of WBSs).

You can use any number of cost components and cost centers. These components may use different currencies and of course you can get reports about any cost components and centers. Besides you may level projects taking into account restrictions on cost components (software simulates income too).

Any activity, resource and link can have its own calendar. So there is a question - what is nonworking time? When nobody works?

Spider Project plans and tracks physical progress basing on amounts of work (work volumes) - not just manhours (this too).

I could not comment predefined reporting - I am sure that we use different standards. But our software permits to create and to store your own report templates to use it repeatedly.

Spider Project schedule projects simulating shifts (I don’t know other software that does the same). Projects are scheduled in seconds. Reports - for any time period.

It is easy to create WBS that segregates pre & post turnaround activities from the turnaround scope.

Everything you described does not require Spider Project adjustments.

Best Regards,
Vladimir
Bernard Ertl
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    What kind of software adjustment do you mean?

Vladimir, I’m not sure if that question was directed at me or Bahari, but I’ll try to highlight a few of the differences that make ATC Professional tailored to managing turnarounds:

Scope Definition

ATC Professional is structured differently from most project management programs (PMPs). It organizes data in a work order structure and separates the planning from the scheduling. When the scope definition is developed independent of schedule, it encourages more honest estimating and less fudging to paint pictures with bar charts. Field personnel can buy into the estimates without committing to a schedule.

Work Order plans can be easily activated/inactivated. ATC Professional has built in facilities for managing add-on work versus original scope, pre-t/a, t/a and post-t/a activities, permits, procedures, blind lists, etc.

ATC Professional also differentiates between cost plus (time & material) work and lump sum contract work allowing all work to be scheduled and tracked while focusing budgeting and manpower requirements on just the cost plus work (or lump sum work or both - as desired).

Scheduling

ATC Professional shows non-working time on a 24-hour timeline. ATC Professional’s bar charts make the total schedule completely transparent and easy to read. See our white paper Transparency in Critical Path Method Scheduling for more information on this subject.

Progress Tracking

ATC Professional tracks physical progress (based upon manhours), critical mass (physical progress trending) and the schedule (critical path).

Reporting

ATC Professional has over 50 specific reports focused on delivering key information targeted to different levels of the turnaround organization from field supervision, the warehouse, safety, operations and planning to upper management for the various stages of the turnaround (from conception/budgeting to post project analysis).

Since virtually every information need is met with intrinsic reports, there is no possibility for fudging numbers in 3rd party systems (like Excel).

ATC Professional consistently achieves a full range of updated progress, schedule and manpower reports at shift change. Field supervision/superintendents have updated shift schedules to focus on schedule priorities (for driving the project execution) and managers have real time information to make decisions (for driving the project to meet time and budget goals).

Miscellaneous

PMP schedules are easy to fudge. Data can be manipulated to paint pictures at virtually any time without notice. This allows planners to continually fudge the schedules to fit managements desires / expectations and hide important problems instead of allowing them to be addressed. This is a real problem in the high-pressure turnaround industry. ATC’s data cannot be fudged without raising flags since it tracks physical progress in terms of manhours at the work order level.

ATC Professional’s activity timing codes segregate pre & post turnaround activities from the turnaround scope. This allows you to measure the impact of incomplete pre-t/a work that must be completed during the turnaround using turnaround resources. Also, the critical path accurately measures just the work required for plant start-up (pre-t/a & t/a) while still allowing you to budget, track and manage post-t/a work within the same schedule.

I suppose that with a bit of work, planners might be able to adapt PMPs to simulate some of the functionality of ATC Professional, but I have yet to see one used in the field that performed comparably.

Bernard Ertl
InterPlan Systems - ATC Professional Shutdown / Turnaround Management System
Software is a tool. For professionals usually it does matter which tools to use.
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As the initial post said if the software is used purely as a reporting tool to appease management, which in my experience it often is, then it is a waste of money.
My successes in planning have always been through getting the PM methodology right. This includes not only the plan but the associated documentation (Project descriptions, risk analysis/management etc.)
Finally and most essentially a buy-in from all interested parties to the project.
With all these in place the software is largely irrelevant as they basically will give the same results in the hands of an experienced planner.
Pradeep Kumar Mah...
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Hi! This is PK here from Oman, though an old player in Planning but new to the forum. However I feel the PM software is not only for reporting , it is mainly for the forecasting. Forecasting I mean, the forecasting of a new completion date based on current pace of progress of project which helps us to have a relook at the factors culpable for the delays if any and to find a remidial action to mitigate the delays in any project either it is from design deliverables or from material delivery or from costruction resources or from construiction delays. Ultimately it will lead to Shortfall analysis for the project for a specified period of time. Bye guys, PK
The last posting is mine. I am sorry - forgot to login.
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Our PM software is used for management (not just for reporting) of many types of projects including Oil & Gas and power generation projects (pipeline construction, drilling, maintanance, construction of power stations etc.). What kind of software adjustment do you mean? Maybe the reason is the lack of the project management culture in the organizations?
Bahari Sulaiman
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Yes Bernard, I do agree with you. The software need to be customized to certain requirements and condition to really effective.
Bernard Ertl
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Our clients have good success using ATC Professional to drive turnaround projects. But ATC Professional is a little bit different (ie. specialized) from most PM software.

Most of our clients previously used other PM software to develop bar charts to appease management. They were never used to drive a project.

Bernard Ertl
InterPlan Systems - ATC Professional Shutdown / Turnaround Management System