Welcome to the first post in our Ask an Interface Manager series. For each topic in the series, we will ask 3 professionals with interface management expertise the same question and then share their answers. 

This month's topic focused on the question: How do you structure interfaces on your project? The answer to this question resulted in a series of 3 articles, one with a different perspective from each of the following interface management professionals: 

William Becerra Interface Manager

William Becerra
Interface Manager

Olivier Calas Interface Manager

Olivier Calas
Interface Manager

Kelly Maloney - Industry Advisor and Product Manager

Kelly Maloney
Industry Advisor

Planning the Structure of Project Interfaces

Article 1 of 3
by Kelly Maloney, Industry Advisor

Defining the structure of interfaces – establishing a common interface definition to identify shared boundaries between two (or more) independent parties – is a key first step to a successful interface management program. Getting it right the first time can mean the difference between an efficient and successful program versus an unsuccessful program that results in ongoing confusion and lack of stakeholder buy-in. Ensuring stakeholders understand how interfaces are defined, what the scope breakdown looks like, and who is responsible for what is all key to good upfront planning.

Project Type / Stakeholders

One factor that will impact the way interfaces get structured is the project type. You may be working on a project which is an upgrade to an existing facility or an entirely new build. One of the primary differences between these two project types that impacts the structure of interfaces is the stakeholders involved. For example, if the project includes upgrading an existing facility, it will require inputs from many internal business units, engineering centres, and operations. Upgrade projects can introduce additional complexities since they often require one project to coordinate with another project. New builds often involve multiple external entities which may or may not have worked together previously, which too introduces additional complexities. Whatever your project type, understanding your stakeholders will play a key role in defining your interfaces.

Contracting Strategies

The contracting strategy used on a project can also impact the way interfaces will be structured. Contracting strategies determine how the project scope will be delivered. There are many different strategies; using a single main contractor to perform all the work or using multiple main contractors with numerous subcontractors, suppliers, and vendors. In my experience, scope is typically subdivided and contracted to several parties. This strategy tends to reduce risk to the project owner, but introduces new risks in the form of interfaces. This structure, or scope breakdown, will determine those boundaries where the potential for scope gaps and overlaps exist resulting in the need to clearly define these interfaces.

With an understanding of the project type, stakeholders, and contracting strategy common boundaries have been established and now the task of identifying interfaces begins.

Interface Granularity

How granular do you get when defining an interface? There is no set rule on how granular teams should be when defining interfaces on a project – each project team will need to decide what will work best for their project. The goal is to eliminate gaps and overlaps; to ensure that parties that share a common boundary understand the shared interfaces, and all while, at the same time, balancing to ensure a manageable interface register is created that does not add additional and unnecessary overhead.

Factors to consider:

  • Ability to measure progress – if many interfaces group into a single interface point, that interface point cannot be completed (or transition to next phase) until all deliverables for all interfaces have been completed
  • Internal and external interfaces – are there different ‘rules’ depending on where the interface resides or the type of interface
  • Accountability – important to ensure clear accountability at each interface, do not group interfaces if accountability becomes uncertain
  • Confidentiality – proprietary considerations may come into play
  • Flexibility – dependencies can be added, removed or changed as the project progresses, when transitioning into construction does the interface breakdown make sense or will changes be required

Another technique to consider, is to identify each individual interface as belonging to an ‘interface group’ or ‘interface gate’. Typically defined by physical location, interface gates can be used in reporting to help identify progress and areas for ongoing management of interfaces.

Regardless of where you start, you want to ensure your interface register can adopt to continuous change. Flexibility is important.

We worked with two experienced interface managers who shared their thoughts and recommendations on how to tackle the job of identifying & structuring interfaces. As you will see, both describe two very different projects, however, regardless of these differences, both explain the need to ensure stakeholder buy-in and a strong understanding of project scope.

Defining Interfaces: Project Examples 

Now, let's see how two experienced interface managers defined this structure on two different projects: 

William Becerra Interface Manager

William Becerra
Interface Manager

Internal Interfaces for a Refinery Upgrade Project
Project interface manager, William Becerra, explains how a refinery upgrade project defined their structure that focused solely on internal interfaces that included interdependencies with the operations team.

>> Internal Interfaces for a Refinery Upgrade Project

Olivier Calas Interface Manager

Olivier Calas
Interface Manager

Internal & External Interfaces for an Offshore Project
Olivier Calas, experiences interface manager at McDermott International, illustrates how an interface management system was structured for an offshore oil project that included integrating both internal and external interfaces. 

>> Internal & External Interfaces for an Offshore Project

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