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News › Steve Cabano presented, "Managing Plant Projects in Today’s Complex Project Environment" at the 2013 AIChE Annual Meeting

Steve Cabano presented, "Managing Plant Projects in Today’s Complex Project Environment" at the 2013 AIChE Annual Meeting

The capital project planning and execution environment in the chemical industry is ever changing.  In the late 1990s, we were in a pull back position and only executed small in-plant projects.  In the mid-2000s, the industry went haywire and large and small projects were abundant throughout the industry.  In the late 2000s, the world economic crises hit and owner companies pulled back any expansion plans and capital projects came to a halt.  The industry has rebounded and, with the resurgence of the natural gas and oil in North America, capital spending and growth opportunities abound.   This is both a benefit and a detriment to the capital project execution industry.

Today, Owners across the chemical and hydrocarbon process industry have aggressive expansion plans.  Low energy costs, which contribute to over 50% of the production cost for most chemical/petrochemical facilities, are driving this resurgence of investment in the North American markets.  Major expansions, new facilities and increased maintenance activities are draining our engineering, construction and fabrication resources.  Planning and executing projects in today’s environment is very different than it has been in the last 15 – 20 years, as the major/mega projects are drawing resources away from the small in-plant projects.  Even with this pull of internal personnel, the large projects also suffer from the lack of skilled resources from the project management level to the craft worker.   

There’s never been a better time to become a project manager from a demand standpoint.  However, new Project Managers can expect little guidance, minimal mentorship and insufficient time to develop needed PM skills, as most are thrown into a project management role very soon after being hired.  There is also no time for honing skills through the execution of various day-to-day roles and responsibilities and then maturing into the PM role.  Most are expected to manage with only several years of experience rather than the 10 – 15 year maturation process that once existed.  What is an aspiring PM to do?

This presentation will outline the attributes required to be successful in today’s complex and challenging project environment.  Leadership, communication skills, organization and drive are all required in addition to the technical skills related to the industry.  Not everyone is cut out to be a project manager.  Technical knowledge makes up less than 25% of the needed skills to become an effective project leader.  ‘People’ skills are the major component and are often the most difficult to teach and learn.  With the ever depleting resource pool across the industry, this situation is more aggravated at the plant level due to less experienced project resources at the plant, engineering and construction contractors focusing on major projects and the limited time to transfer these skills to the next generation of project team members.

Although it sounds like effectively executing plant-based projects is an insurmountable task in today’s project environment, it can be achieved.   As in any project, planning is key.  Knowing what skills are available, what gaps exists, what drives our projects and how success is measured, allows us to develop appropriate execution strategies and plans.   Will these plans look similar to those of 10 years ago? No.  Innovative methodologies need to be developed that allow us to execute projects in a resource-constrained environment, as outlined above.  Innovative contract strategies are required to capture the best available resources, realistic schedules are needed to communicate achievable results, validated cost estimates are needed to assure cost expectations are able to be met, and resource plans need to be better defined, which may not match the traditional organization charts.  All of these aspects and more will be outlined in this interactive presentation. 

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