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How to Manage Shutdown Project Scheduling for Success

February 06, 2022 |   | 
5 minutes read
Øyvind Røberg

Øyvind Røberg

Shutdown projects, also known as turnarounds, planned outages or STOs are a distinctive and demanding type of project. Stakes are high, as is pressure on the schedule and project team. They are typically costly, short in duration, high risk, require a large number of human resources (including a substantial proportion of sub-contractors), and have a significant focus on HSE (health, safety, and environment). The complexity of these projects dictates a sound process for planning and executing. Meanwhile, the pressure on schedule and overall duration turn them into the Formula 1 of project execution and control. 

40% of shutdown projects experience a cost overrun or schedule delay of more than 30%. But what are the main differences between shutdown projects and regular projects? And what do these differences tell us about the best way to approach scheduling?

Shutdown Projects vs Regular Projects: Key Differences

Some of the main differences, particularly in relation to scheduling are:

  • Turnarounds are periodic and can be carried out only when the plant (asset) is taken out of service. Scheduling pressure is greatly intensified as the value of the project is measured by opportunity cost. A schedule overrun of a day means a day of lost output, which can equate to huge sums of money.
  • The schedule is very closely bound to the defined scope of work.
  • Extensive sub-contracting is much more common in shutdown projects. It's not uncommon to see the number of people on site grow by 300 % during shutdowns.
  • Shutdown projects often comprise a higher proportion of unplanned work. It can be difficult to predict exactly what will be required after equipment is inspected, especially if for the first time. However, once a shutdown project has been done once, many of the planned activities will actually be repeated – when the shutdown is next repeated.
  • Schedules need to be planned to a much more granular level (sometimes down to the minute) and updated more frequently – often on a shift-by-shift basis.


Learn how schedule risk analysis can be the key to project management success  with our free guide. Click here to download today. 

The Planning Phase

In a presentation by maintenance planning and scheduling specialists, Richard Palmer and Associates, they highlight the substantial value in performing proper planning in shutdowns via an industry rule of thumb: one US dollar invested in proper maintenance can equate to ten dollars in plant profit.


1. Scope Management

As in EPCI projects, one of the most common causes of project overruns is scope creep. So, the scope of work should be defined and agreed upon well in advance. During the early planning phase, the entire potential scope of work should be challenged. Ask yourself:

  1. Does this task have to be performed during the shutdown? Or could it be done during regular operation of the plant?
  2. Do the benefits of extending this scope of work by a day outweigh the costs of another’s days lost production? From a business standpoint, it’s important the prioritised work is carried out during the shutdown and the off-line period is kept as short as possible.

Until it’s finally frozen, the scope of work for the STO is likely to fluctuate. To manage changes to the scope of work and to manage the project planning process, a scope change-control process must be in place. It’s also important to identify all work that can and needs to take place prior to shutting down the plant, as well as the work required after start-up. This is required to keep the amount of work during the stop period to a minimum. 


2. The STO Schedule: Work Preparation

Once the scope of work is finalised and verified, the STO team can create a total integrated schedule, including all work to be performed. The schedule should include: all sub-contractor work, all activities related to shutting down the plant safely in preparation for the STO, and the activities needed to restart the plant.

The sequence of work should also take into account any restrictions. For example, needing to have a hydrocarbon-free environment before starting any hot work. The upshot, in this case, would be that mechanical work should start earlier than hot work.

As the schedule starts developing, the schedulers can identify and focus on optimizing the longest path. The scheduling team will also evaluate resource demands by area, unit, sub-contractors, and more.

Focus should be given to: site access, the maximum number of people at any time in any area, and demand vs available resources. If your STO project is related to an offshore oil facility, you will need to add the extra constraint of bed capacity, as this directs the maximum number of people allowed onto the platform.

The pre-shutdown work should be planned, scheduled, executed, and monitored closely to ensure it’s all completed before shutting down the plant. The scheduling team should aim to challenge and optimize the different phases of the project execution:

  • Shutdown
  • Execution of the STO work
  • Testing
  • Preparations and run-up to bring the plant successfully and safely back to full operation

The scheduling team should also focus on status reporting, status meetings, and all required routines to plan for a successful execution. Ideally, they will prepare project status reports containing S-curves, manpower histograms, progress summaries, and bar charts – with front-lines that clearly identify status, and have the capacity to reveal any deviations that occur.

Each report should aim to be:

  • Only a few pages (between around one and three) in length
  • Narrow and specific in focus
  • Simple and easy to read
  • Easily available – web-based reporting is ideal
  • Automatically produced at regular intervals

The structure of the schedule and supporting codes should be flexible enough to allow reports to be produced for any area, unit, contractor, sub-contractor, and any defined phase or sub-phase, as well as overall for the STO project.

You may well be asked to prepare a set of one hundred or more reports, on a daily basis, to support the needs of the different stakeholders. To do this, you need a powerful and flexible project management system with extensive reporting capabilities. 

The STO Execution

During the execution, there should be a strict focus on the schedule and its remaining work. Frequent updates to the schedule are required – at least once a day, sometimes more frequently. The team must focus on deviations and what can be done to get back on schedule. You should set priorities and prepare for decisions you might need to make if, for any reason, you can’t get the project back on schedule. Usually, there are two options: descoping or extending the shutdown period.

As equipment is opened, cleaned, and inspected, extra work may be discovered. Every add-on to the schedule and scope of work should be addressed through a scope change-control process, and if approved, tracked as a change to the scope of work. The management team will also focus on any risks, risk mitigation, and any HSE issues.

To succeed in shutdown projects, it’s vital that the schedule becomes a project management tool, rather than a reporting tool. When it comes to reporting, it’s key to capture progress information while the schedule is in progress, so it can be updated for the next shift. The updated status report should then be run and distributed to the entire team, allowing them access to all relevant information.

The final stage of the execution phase is to return the plant to safe and full operation.


A successful STO:

  • Contains no HSE issues
  • Is completed on schedule and within the defined scope of work
  • Results in the plant being returned back to full operation

That’s what "done" looks like!

STOs are challenging, hectic, resource-intensive, costly, and highly focused projects that require detailed preparation, planning and scheduling – well in advance of the shut-down. Work is carried out in different stages and phases and all work for each phase should be carefully planned, scheduled and executed.

To keep your fingers on the pulse of the project, powerful solutions such as Safran Project, Safran Risk and Safran Web are vital. Safran tools have been employed at many STOs so far, each time ensuring tight control and successful completion.

Keeping all stakeholders updated by sharing status information and allowing personnel to focus on remaining work drastically cuts frustration during execution and paves the way for a successful STO.

By using Safran Project, you give yourself the best possible chance of staying in full control of time-critical shutdown projects. But don't take our word for it – give it a go today with a free 30-day trial.