We recently shared about the importance of strong shutdown systems. These are essential to well-managed shutdowns. The backbone is the shutdown management framework that guides all activity – a robust continuous system of processes to identify, define, prepare, execute and report on works. However, like any improvement opportunity, a system is only as good as the communication capability that supports it.

While the topic on many people’s minds at the moment is shutdown compression, that can’t be sustainably achieved with a siloed approach. As work has been done across the resources sector to reduce costs, in some spheres, this hasn’t been holistic and has resulted in negative consequences like shutdown overruns, or preventable breakdowns between shutdowns. That may be due to a process failure but, invariably, there is a communication breakdown in the mix.

Ways to overrun planned durations

Take the first example of a shutdown overrun. There are numerous possible culprits, such as:

  • Poor identification of the required work
  • Poor preparation of the work scope
  • Lack of knowledge to challenge the work scope
  • Late work allowed to enter the work scope
  • Poor approval of the work scope
  • Lack of preparation time for client supervision or contractors
  • Parts and materials not identified or prepared for use prior to the shutdown
  • Emergent works impacting execution resources and schedule

While processes sit behind each of these, a host of communication disciplines and behaviours make all the difference. Given that poorly prepared works historically cost four times that of planned works, getting your communication right has a bottom-line benefit.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

The right information, to the right people, at the right time, produces the most efficient compliance to process. Here are three broad levels where that must happen:

  • Communicating intent – the site, supporting departments and senior management need to know a shutdown cycle is starting, and when, and what’s needed by way of support. We know what needs to be covered (ie process), but how each facet is covered is where the game can be won or lost on clarity. We’ve seen mature operational teams, with quality planning templates, shortcut what they communicate as they prepare for a shutdown. They leave parts of the process incomplete, cut-and-paste old information, or provide irrelevant detail. All of these can easily disengage key stakeholders who are central to success. Considering that leaders influence the consistency of resources made available to manage shutdowns, success means treating the preparation stage as a true opportunity for engaging people.
  • Communicating progress – a core pillar of a good readiness tracking process is the weekly progress report. Yes, that’s a process, but when treated as a communication tool, it provides a consistent, repeatable forum for highlighting issues and opportunities throughout the cycle. It’s also a mechanism that empowers senior management to align people from an accountability perspective. Other communication tools, like standardised, central information centres using visual management techniques, are excellent avenues for providing all stakeholders with accurate, consistent progress information…24/7. They also have excellent potential to prompt questions and support stakeholder alignment. These are becoming more effective as digital technology creates scope for smart screens that engage remote team members and other stakeholders.
  • Communicating logic – when we’ve observed a shutdown management framework in action, it’s more common than not to find that processes aren’t consistently followed. Everyone is busy with day-to-day activities and that impacts focus. If the right work is completed in a timely manner, then unplanned downtime is eliminated or significantly reduced between planned shutdown events – and the shutdown itself can be delivered in the tightest timeframe. People aren’t robots, so expecting a blind following of process simply doesn’t work. If people are empowered with enough of the bigger picture…if goals are communicated effectively…then process can win. For example, it’s not uncommon for shutdown tasks to be skipped because someone inspected wear rates and made a decision on the run to remove replacement of wear plates from a work scope. In reality, the repair should have been completed as per the plan to ensure effective run time between shutdowns. Connecting workgroups with the rationale behind why certain works are included, can be a fast communication solution with a much greater positive impact on process.

Considering that best practice shutdowns improve safety, quality, schedule, new improvement identification, cost management and more, communication clearly isn’t a nice-to-have. Skipping the shortcut, and communicating well, has real, measurable value.