In many industries, speed to market is more important than cost. In the last 2 years, several companies have developed and executed capital projects under immense pressure to meet customer needs for safety equipment and pharmaceuticals.
IPA evaluated three recent projects that were schedule-driven to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing safety equipment or pharmaceuticals. While fast tracking projects in planning and execution always increases risks, all three projects had actual execution durations that were 40 to 50 percent faster than average—achieving their primary goal of speed and outperforming their peers in this area. What accounts for their success?
Practices that Allowed Speed to Market
Strong alignment between business and project teams with a clear understanding of project priorities: IPA has long found that projects with confused priorities do not achieve low cost or fast schedule. Those that target fast schedule are able to accomplish it—often with the trade-off of higher costs. It isn’t that cost must be traded for schedule—but that schedule must be the clear priority and that potential trade‑offs must be defined and agreed on. These three teams all had a clear vision of what the project was trying to achieve and were aligned with business on their goals.
Stable team: Team member turnover hinders speed because it takes time to get the new team member up to speed and sometimes agreements made have to be renegotiated. New team members may also want to make changes. One of the projects did have project manager turnover—but it occurred early in the project’s lifecycle and the new project manager was experienced, which was an asset.
Experienced team members: The companies that executed these projects put their most experienced team members on these projects (A-team). When choosing the team members, they considered the experience these team members had with projects of similar size, complexity, processes, and technology.
Leveraging existing design: One area that often gets shortchanged in fast-tracked projects is definition. These projects often have very short definition periods and definition is typically highly overlapped with subsequent phases to shorten cycle time as much as possible. Leveraging existing design can make it possible to expedite the definition period without suffering some of the associated penalties. One case study project was able to use the design from similar projects the company was executing in other locations. This project also benefited from costs and lessons learned being shared across the like projects.
Procuring equipment far in advance: Having equipment and materials available when they are needed is key to a fast cycle time and having a standardized design facilitates this. Current supply chain delays have made this even more critical. One case study project started procurement even before the team was formed; this was possible because the project had a standardized design. This project had one piece of equipment arrive late because it was ordered late after a scope change. This late change highlights the risk of ordering early—if scope or specifications change, the equipment or materials procured may not be the ones needed.
Use of sub-projects: One case study project divided the scope into sub-projects that could be advanced independently. This strategy not only allowed the sub-projects to move ahead without waiting for one large package but it also allowed for good controls in execution because the smaller scopes were easier to manage.
The Bottom Line
The above mentioned practices allowed all three projects to install what was planned with greatly accelerated schedules. However, one case study project built a facility that is now sitting idle because the market changed, a factor outside the team’s control. This is the chance that businesses take.