Your schedule is the control center of your project and helps direct all progress. Ensuring you’ve considered all activities and milestones in your schedule is key to ensuring project success. Any unknown schedule discrepancies can put your project at risk. One key project management process that can supply additional insights to your schedule and help broaden overall project transparency is interface management. Linking key interfaces to milestones within your project schedule is a proven way to bring these two business processes together and provide project managers with ‘next-level’ project transparency that was not previously attainable. Through this integration of processes, project managers can identify schedule discrepancy between key interfaces and project milestones early on in the the project for improved risk mitigation.
Today’s Projects and Interface Management
Managing a project to completion is a challenging endeavor. Today’s projects are complex, span multiple years, and use partnering and/or contracting structures tailored to meet unique project requirements and transfer risk. However, these same structures can introduce risk in the form of interfaces between the parties if they are not managed properly. The Construction Industry Institute reported the average cost growth for projects without formal interface management is 18%. As such, projects are being pushed to effectively manage interfaces from early planning and Front End Engineering and Design (FEED) through construction, commissioning, and handover to operations in order to mitigate risks and deliver business value.
Implementing a collaborative interface management program is critical to achieving alignment between project stakeholders and reducing interface-related project risk. Interface management best practices have been established for the systematic identification of interface points and interface agreements, as well as the collaboration between stakeholders for the management of interfaces throughout the project lifecycle. Project controls for interface management have matured such that a project owner and each of the major contractors involved in an integrated interface management program can easily monitor interface scope, progress, quality, and change.
The Goal: Risk Impact Visualization through Schedule Integration
The next level maturity for a collaborative interface management program is to achieve systematic monitoring of schedule impact. Schedule integration is a key differentiator that can further ensure a project remains on track. The best strategy to achieve this level of control is to bring two critical business processes together – planning and interface management- to align interface activity to key schedule milestones.
Properly executed, this alignment ensures interface-related schedule risk is more easily identified by each stakeholder, and that an efficient process exists to resolve interface-related schedule issues. This strategy also standardizes the project controls used to monitor unresolved interface-related schedule issues by interface managers and project planners at each stakeholder’s organization. Figure 1 shows the relationship between milestones in the project and actual dates in the interface management system.
Whether you’re monitoring the forecasted finish date of an interface point for a specific phase of a project or drilling down to ensure alignment of the detailed interface deliverables, or both, integration of these two key business processes can provide new opportunity for increased transparency ensuring better insight into potential project risks earlier than ever before.
The Challenge: Being Aware of All Project Risks
The contracting strategy used by owners of today’s medium-to-large-scale projects normally results in multiple scope packages being awarded to multiple contractors that are geographically dispersed. This is executed with the objective of minimizing technical, resourcing, quality, and delivery risks to the overall project.
While effective, these contracting strategies create additional project risk in the form of project interfaces or dependencies between the various scopes of work and the contractors responsible for delivery. Managing these interfaces, the stakeholder relationships, and the interactions related to interface deliverables is the discipline of interface management.
Interface Management is a project management and systems engineering management discipline applied to address risk associated with project interfaces and the interactions they require – both internal to the project and between external entities influencing the project.Michael Bible and Susan Bivins, Project Interface Management - Reducing Risk on Major Projects
Interface management on projects starts with the identification of interface points early in the project life cycle for each scope package. Interfaces may be physical, commercial, or environmental in nature. Examples of where interfaces exist include:
- Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – Owner / operators interface with a governing body for approval to proceed with the project, requiring input from multiple sources.
- Main Pipe Rack Corridor – Multiple scopes of work being fed utilities and / or delivering processed liquids / solids / gases with multiple engineering and construction contractors dependent upon the completion and connection to the main arterial pipe rack.
- Packaged Unit – A key supplier’s packaged processing unit within an engineering and construction contractor’s scope of work.
Interface points can be internal to a scope package or external (existing between different contractors and scope packages).
Interface management encourages contractors responsible for work packages to communicate and share information and deliverables amongst each other. Technical information such as pressure and flow rates; documents such as process flow diagrams, battery limit tables and schematics; and timing of construction activities and testing; is just a small sampling of the information and documents that must be shared and exchanged between scope packages to successfully manage project interfaces. Success hinges on the coordination and timely completion of these activities and deliverables.
Interface management manages a specific type of risk on projects, but too often, the interface information is not systematically compared to the project schedule and this level of detail does not exist in the schedule otherwise. As a result, projects run the real risk of interface-related schedule risk going undetected.
While it is encouraged and necessary to support these open communication channels, it is also important to keep an eye on the baseline schedule and ensure that potential misalignment of deliverables, tasks and/or activities are brought to the attention of the key stakeholders.
Integrated scheduling is a well understood key component of effective project management. Defining and publishing an integrated master schedule provides a standardized way to communicate what needs to be accomplished to all work package owners. Through an integrated schedule, the critical path is identified and changes to the critical path can be identified and the impacts evaluated.
A horizontally integrated schedule which aligns and links lower level (e.g. level 3 to level 5) activities across multiple contractors and/or suppliers typically does not exist. Work scope is far too large and complex to achieve an integrated schedule this detailed.
The Solution: Integrate Interfaces with the Project Schedule
Project schedules will have hundreds or thousands of activities. And your interface management system will also be tracking hundreds or thousands of interfaces. It is unrealistic to try to represent all interface activities and relationships in the schedule.
With the challenge of achieving this level of integration, projects are looking at alternatives. The logical choice is integration between the project schedule and interface management. The schedule tracks the higher-level milestones and activities; while the interface management system tracks the detailed deliverables between the various project participants. Linking the interface details to the schedule milestones will bring projects an increased level of awareness and provide the transparency needed to ensure that interface-related activity aligns with the schedule.
Early visibility of potential schedule issues (e.g. out of sync dates discovered in the Work Schedule Discrepancy Report – Figure 2) is key to giving the project management team the lead time needed to mitigate the risk.
Summary: Integrating Interfaces with Schedule Equals Increased Transparency & Improved Project Outcomes
It’s a given that projects have and will continue to grow in size and complexity. With the move away from the traditional nomination of a single EPC to joint venture consortia, project management contractors (PMCs), specialist fabricators, multiple engineering and design contractors etc., there is an increasing number of interfaces between different stakeholders and differing contractual arrangements. This drives significant implications to managing the project schedule.
Projects have an increased need for predictability and cost containment
- The result is that project teams must be highly effective, flexible, and have access to all related information in order to remain on top of things before they become serious issues. If projects are considering the project schedule without interface activities, they are missing a major source of critical project information.
Transparency is a key factor to project execution and delivery success
- The additional transparency provided by bringing together the key project management disciplines of schedule planning and interface management will further equip project managers, planners, and interface managers with additional information to identify potential schedule risk early.
- A successful integration strategy can ensure that project interfaces and activities are tracked and kept in sync with your overall project schedule.
Project success will be determined based on how effectively project risk is identified and managed
- Poor communication, poor scope definition, and failure to clarify expectations are all major sources of risk to a project. These risk factors can be reduced by having an interface management system (IMS) which drives improved scope delineation. The key objective of any interface management program is to provide an improved process for scope delineation which is used as a foundation to facilitate communication and ensure clarity of expectations. Integrated with the project work schedule, the IMS will provide valuable data in early identification and resolution of potential risk when scope is not well understood and interfacing parties do not understand expectations.
For more information on how to practically implement this integration, we’ve detailed ‘how-to’ in a comprehensive step-by-step guide that can be downloaded below. The guide includes the content above that illustrates the benefits this integration offers as well as an in-depth breakdown of how you can implement this strategy on your project.