The Basics of Project Planning in Maintenance and Reliability

Noria Corporation

Though "project management" has become a popular buzzword in the last several years, it has been around for a long time, from the great pyramids of Egypt (circa 2600 B.C.), to the Great Wall of China (circa 500 B.C.) and the lunar missions of the 20th century. Of course, not all projects are as large and complex as these, but the components are the same.

A project, as defined by the Project Management Institute, is a "temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result." Individuals involved in the maintenance and reliability world undertake small and large projects every day. The success of these projects rests firmly on the project manager's ability to properly plan the project and monitor and control its progress.

Project vs. Program

When referring to a project, it is necessary to understand its exact meaning. The definition listed earlier states that a project is a temporary endeavor that has a start and a finish. An example of a simple project would be to paint the floor in a lubricant storage and handling room. A program, however, is a group of coordinated projects, managed to achieve benefits or results not available from managing these projects individually. A plant-wide lubrication program falls into this category.

Additionally, going one step above programs is the portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of projects or programs that are grouped together and may or may not be dependent on one another, or even related. The portfolio represents an organization's set of active programs or projects at a specific point in time.

Planning for Success

Projects at any level and at any magnitude require careful planning to ensure success. A component of planning is preparing for risk and managing this risk if it occurs. Up to 80 percent of project risk comes from human resources; therefore, it's important for this risk to be adequately factored when planning projects.

Project risk management is a process by which risk is planned to increase the probability and impact of positive events, and decrease the probability and impact of events harmful to the project.

All projects follow a similar path:

  • Initiation

  • Planning

  • Execution and control

  • Close-out

Project Initiation

Project initiation defines and authorizes the project. It is made up of two elements, the project charter and the preliminary scope statement. Project charters act as a contract between parties and are necessary to document and identify the business needs of the service required to satisfy all parties involved.

The charter authorizes the project and outlines the benefits, as well as provides project justification, lists key constraints such as time and cost, and describes the responsibilities of the involved parties. The preliminary scope statement is a highly defined document that not only lists the project definition, key deliverables, constraints and driving factors, resources, risks and stakeholders, but it also defines what is not included in the project.

It is important for the project scope to list what is not included in the project. For instance, if you are developing a plan to implement oil analysis on equipment with high criticality, a statement that clearly identifies equipment with low criticality must also be noted.

Project Planning

Project planning is perhaps the most crucial component of project management, but it often mistakenly achieves the status of low importance. The phrase "less talk, more action" can be one motivator that cuts the planning stage short. Planning encapsulates the project management plan, the kick-off, defining the work, detailed planning, developing a project schedule, establishing a budget and setting a project baseline.

Every component of project planning is critical to the success of any project. Any client (internal or external), regardless of the project, likes to be well informed. Project planning provides a necessary direction for how the project is going to be executed.

A critical step in planning is to be aware of the driving factors of the project. These are made up of cost, scope and time, with each of these factors varying in relative priority. The relative sum of these factors will always remain constant. As one of these factors increases in value, one or both of the other factors will be reduced.

Often, the perceived value or priority of one or more of these factors cannot be changed. For example, the allowable cost (budget) for a project may be fixed, or the deadline for completion cannot be moved. If minor modifications need to be planned for an oil analysis project on critical equipment, most of the time modifications to install oil sampling valves require the component to be pulled off-line.

However, an upcoming two-day shutdown will allow for all modifications to be performed at one time without planning for equipment to be down. Due to this time constraint, time as a driving factor is a high priority. This means that either cost or scope may need to change as well. Because the shutdown is looming, the cost to procure and ship appropriate hardware is likely to increase.

If cost is not severely limited, the project can proceed as planned. However, if cost has an upper limit that must be adhered to, the only driving factor available that can be changed is scope. To maintain a project completion date at the end of the shutdown and to stay within allowable budget constraints, the scope will need to be adjusted. In this case, an adjustment may result in modifying fewer pieces of equipment at this time.

Execution and Control

The execution and control phase of a project encompasses kicking off the project, monitoring and control, quality and deliverable acceptance, issues and change management, and finally meetings, reviews and reporting. Although all aspects of the execution and control phase are equally important, the main focus often falls on the deliverable. For a client to accept the deliverable, it must meet his expectations for both quality and scope. Therefore, precise monitoring and control are required.

Depending on the nature of the project, the project manager will be responsible for monitoring and controlling the project. Some of the factors they may be responsible for could include schedule actuals (start, finish and milestone dates), cost actuals versus budget constraints, and effort and resource actuals. The detail and frequency of monitoring updates should be determined up front with the frequency likely to vary during the project.

Several tools are available that can help the project manager communicate what is being monitored to the client. Performance curves, Gantt charts and any other visual methods are useful to avoid misinterpretation of the data.

Project Close-out

Project close-out may seem like a step in the process that happens only when the work is complete. However, it is important to formally terminate all activities of a project or a project phase and hand off the completed product. Projects that are not formally closed-out will often suffer from "scope creep."

Scope creep is what happens when the project continues beyond the original scope for any reason. Additional deliverables, changes, rework or further factors not a part of the original scope of the project can be considered scope creep.

All projects are run differently, especially in maintenance when time constraints can play a dramatic role in what gets done and when. It's important to consider the formal way to manage projects. Adding formal elements to the project management will not only ensure a successful deliverable, but will also allow projects to run more efficiently.


A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Third Edition. 2004.

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