Interface Challenges…A Contractor's Perspective
Arpan Shah
Mott MacDonald Industry Account Leader

A continuous happening and most worrisome part during entire life cycle of any project is maintaining a healthy, synchronous and harmonious relationships among all Interfaces. As speed mismatching of different gears of a giant machinery may lead to disastrous failure or catastrophic breakdown, similarly a badly managed project becomes like a best recipe turned into a bad meal though all ingredients exist. The article covers some of the practical views of Interface Challenges together with their causal factors and mitigation aspects are narrated.

1 PROJECT LIFE CYCLE

1.1 Major activities during project life cycle are as under:
  • During Initiation/Start-up
    • Kick of meeting (internal/external) to set up roles and responsibilities
    • Scope of each stake holder, defining Project Approach and Methodology and entire line of deliverables.
    • Schedule Charting/Resource planning
    • Understanding of client expectations by all stake holders
  • Execution
    • High energy consuming period/utilization of most resources
    • Need for corrective and fast decisionmaking process
    • From all stake holders, delivery is expected of defined and properly structured qualitative efforts
    • Most often, struggle is observed to maintain schedule, costs, credit management and quality of deliverables
  • Monitoring and Control
    • Technical Progress
      • Need exists for efficient Document Control Index (DCI), Monthly Progress Review(MPR), S-Curve for control and monitoring
      • Identifying problems/potential risks and mitigation action plan
      • Strategy to achieve milestones and meet deadlines
      • Immediate reporting of Significant deviation/Corrective action/Change control procedure
    • Physical Progress
      • Setting KPIs/fixation of base-line/indicating S-curve in report
      • Normal applied method of Earned Value Management (EVM)
    • Financial Progress
      • Monitoring Actual/Forecast costs budgeted vs budgeted/ revised cost
    • Final winding up
      • When all deliverables/documents/'As Built' are handed over to the Client - the final stake holder.
      • Demobilising all site activities and releasing site staff .
      • Settling final invoices
      • Client feedback
2 INTERFACE

2.1 Definition
  • It is transparent boundary layer or battery limits pertaining to each stake holder.
  • Interfacing is an activity which helps to maintain the smooth flow of information among all interdependent and interrelated stake holders (disciplines or specific functional activity holders) at all levels in a project.
2.2 Responsibility
  • It becomes responsibility of project management team to manage successfully to avoid interface conflicts hence practically Project Manager becomes the Interface Manager at all times!
  • The Project Manager is ultimately held responsible for the In-time, Within-budget and Within-scope completion of his project. It is therefore his responsibility to control and coordinate the work of all the functional groups to achieve the targets of project scope, cost and schedule.
2.3 Types of Interfaces

2.3.1 Internal Interface
  • Interfaces within the project (inter disciplines/HR-Admin/Finance/ IT)
  • Normally they are sequential (when one delivers only, other can start) and reciprocated (give and take - harder relationship to maintain )
2.3.2 External Interface
  • Interfaces with external agencies (client/sub-contractors, vendors, fabricators, package suppliers, consultants, statutory authorities)
  • Normally most of them are of sequential nature and very less reciprocated
3 INTERFACE MISMATCH

3.1 Main Causes
  • Improper Kick-off meeting - taken for granted approach for routine deliverables
  • Scope clarity confusion - no explanation about grey area
  • Less communication-meetings-information exchange
  • Negligence towards maintaining Minutes of Meeting (MoM) during meeting with important stake-holders and distributing them afterwards for current updated status.
  • Hastened Squad checks for urgent delivery and missed-out clash checking meetings.
  • Quality System failure
  • Missing or pending updation of (Document Control index) DCI by Individual stake-holder
  • Progress status of executed work not exchanged within inter -disciplinary circles or among other stake-holders
3.2 Effects
  • Friction, Stress and lethargy generation among project team
  • Poor co-ordination and lack of collaboration among all stake-holders
  • Generation of design errors and lowquality deliverables.
  • Mismatch among all inter-dependent stake-holder's deliverables
  • Construction conflicts at site creating execution delays
  • Leading to ultimate system performance degradation
4 ANALYSIS AND MITIGATION PLAN

Challenges
4.1 During Design Phase (Internal Interface)
  • Causes
    • Delay in submitting design output on which further work of other discipline depends
    • Change in design
    • Change in Business Plan
    • High TAT (Turn Around Time) by client to approve documents
    • Change in scope (capacity enhancement or augmentation) after halfway through design
  • Mitigation Points
    • Frequent meeting by PM to review the progress and status of deliverables of all concerned stake holders responsible for particular phase
    • PM needs to remain in close contact with client and demand a mutually agreed signed-off change order with revised scope details in case of change in plant-process design.
    • PM needs to percolate down all details to the affected stake -holders. He has to submit the cost of Change Order to client for confirmation and Go-ahead signal.
    • For each change PM has to take care for its Impact on Cost as well as Time Schedule and keep each stakeholder aware of changes .
    • Early engagement of external competent agency to outsource certain design activities to meet the schedule.
4.2 During Procurement Phase - Delay factor (External + Internal interface)
  • Causes
    • Delayed inputs from Design discipline
    • Delay in Procurement Cycle
    • Delay in Long lead item
    • Delay and/or insufficient inputs from Vendor for review and comments
    • Delay in final GAD from Vendors for detailing / design further .
    • Sometimes for early start, site execution is started on assumption/vendor approved drawings of similar equipment and ultimately causing reworking due to mismatch afterwards upon actual delivery of package or FEG items.
    • When the vendor/supplier does not follow design drawings to the point leading to clashes on site during execution.
  • Mitigation Points
    • Action plan for long lead items shall be chalked out at earlier phase.
    • Accordingly, information-data gathering and up to preparation of final Purchase Order Specifications should be in first line of preference.
    • Maintain "Delay Analysis" log and alert all concerned on regular interval
    • Regular communication with responsible person of Package supplier/Vendor/Fabricator with physical progress review visit at works shall be more helpful.
    • Critical parameters for designing must be adhered to by Package / FEG vendor to avoid reworking because of site clashes
4.3 External Interface Factor - Subcontractors/Vendors
  • Causes
    • Delay in deliverables/supply items
    • Mismatch between GAD/supply item specification from input feed data
    • Mismatch in Fabrication drawings and changes in Nozzle schedule and orientation
    • Changes in final scheme other than intended specifications.
    • Rejection as not meeting QA / QC requirements during inspection by TPI or self.
  • Mitigation Points
    • Demand for stagewise document delivery for review and for updated schedule.
    • Regular communication with responsible person of Package supplier/Vendor/Fabricator with physical progress review visit at works shall be more helpful.
    • Reputed TPI intervention shall be more helpful at such times .
4.4 Project Site Management Activity by Site Executor / Contractor
  • Causes
    • Insufficient resources
    • Insuf ficient cash flow
    • Execution clashes among other stake-holders
    • Last moment drawing/design change/revisions
    • Execution mismatching the design/drawings
    • Decision making delay on critical/general points by design discipline/procurement/client responsible authority
    • Delay in supply of free issue or bought out items from client .
    • Unplanned execution in haphazard fashion not in sequential order
    • Lack of constructability
  • Mitigation Points
    • Site visit by PM team at regular interval and meetings with all stakeholders to resolve all clashes, hindering factors and accumulated issues is the key factor to smoothen out problems.
    • Strong site supervision, monitoring and giving detailed feedback to project management team is most essential.
    • Sometimes the deputed site supervisor becomes unofficial employee of contractor and becomes sympathiser who inadvertently hides inefficiency of contractor.PM should be always on lookout for such tendency development in site staff.
    • For cash flow issues and supply of free issue material from client, candid and honest discussions with client will build confidence and rapport. Incidentally, client and all major stakeholder shall provide proactive support with 'in the interest of project' attitude.
4.5 Major Key Factor - Project Management Efficacy
  • Causes
    • Not following schedule - crisis management approach
    • Ad-hoc approach in decision making process
    • Wavering decisions
    • Finance crunch
    • Cash flow problems
    • Not sound procurement strategyfavouritism-dishonest decisions
    • Unrealistic time line, milestones and approach
    • Delay in Procurement
    • Choice of spurious quality of Vendors/contractors
    • Unprofessional approach
    • Stop and Go in business plan
  • Mitigation Points
    • Project management team should ensure that they have clearly defined scope, displayed correct manhour budget and realistic time schedule which are some of the major driving factors. Mile stone targets and time lines should be achievable with resources allocated for the delivery of project. Here the role of Project planner becomes vital for visualizing and minimizing the risks.
    • Project management team should be strong, experienced and having a proactive approach in changing situations and scenarios
    • ○Information gathering and redistribution among all relevant stake holders is the prime requisite of Project management team.
    • A continuous Project Schedule updation with carrying out Gap Analysis/Critical Path Analysis and monitoring by project team will help.
    • Daily updation of main DCI and deliverable submission records is one of major key factors.
    • All stake holders should work on a common shared platform to avoid ambiguity and mismatches/clashes. Document control is also utmost important. Right revision drawing shall be used for execution .
    • Cash flow should be continuous and WIP should be minimum. Extra efforts should be immediately claimed to maintain profitability on positive side.
    • Suggestion / Selection of contractors and vendor - fabricators should be based on past records and good certifications to avoid problems in maintaining procurement schedule and quality aspects to avoid delay in overall project schedule.
    • Major factor is maintaining smooth flow internal interface which is mostly of reciprocated and sequential nature. Personal egos , temperaments and attitudes cause frictional environment. This hinders flow of client deliverables and lowers qualitystandards of designdocuments as inter-discipline squad checks; clash check group meetings lose their value-added importance.
    • For bigger project (say >INR 25 Mn), engage one Project Engineering Manager (PEM) may be appointed to take care of inter -discipline coordination and quality engineering delivery.