Steve Wilson

One Simple Plan - A Solid Foundation For Project Controls

In a nutshell

Over the past 15 years, right across the maritime and other complex engineering sectors, we have consistently found issues with organisations’ planning processes, despite their best efforts. This fundamental part of the project all too often becomes one of the key blockers to effective progress. 

Stephen Wilson


Stephen Wilson

Posted June 10, 2019
"We're trying to deliver this ship despite the plan" This phrase, and others like it, are a troubling indicator that a project’s operational efficiency is taking a significant hit – when such a fundamental part of a project is seen as a blocker to effective progress.

The importance of a sound plan which is trusted across the workforce cannot be understated. Leo Martin, Maritime Transformation Director at BAE Systems states.

The plan underpins everything: the sequence of build; the release of engineering information; the supply of materials and the foundation of reliable project controls, governance and decision making. Building and maintaining a reliable plan is a fundamental part of any successful project.

Over the past 15 years, right across the maritime and other complex engineering sectors, we have consistently found issues with organisations’ planning processes, despite their best efforts. This fundamental part of the project all too often becomes one of the key blockers to effective progress. The impact of this is huge: poor decision making, inaccurate forecasting, a lack of trust leading to working off-plan, and ultimately failure to deliver to our customers’ expectations.

Where forward-thinking businesses have invested to improve their planning capability, the results have had a huge impact on delivery, but it has taken the commitment of the business to improve. Below we have described four areas of an effective planning process which help improve planning accuracy, promote a culture of trusting and working to the plan, and drive more accurate project controls.

The right plan is absolutely paramount for success. It sounds simple, but it is often the simplest things that get overlooked when faced with a lot of complexity in a project. My advice is not to scrimp on investing in planning capability as I have seen this type of investment have a huge impact on delivery, particularly when you have a highly engaged workforce.

1. Plan alignment and data quality

We can’t expect a plan to ever be perfect – in fact, aspiring for planning perfection can have a seriously adverse effect on planning effectiveness. For a project to be successful however, the plan does at least need to be sufficiently accurate and representative of the current build-state to be credible, whilst also being flexible enough to react to changing customer requirements, particularly in the refit environment.

Businesses are typically equipped with good planning systems, but the planning team often lack experience or adequate training to use them effectively. This leads to teams using the planning systems incorrectly or developing workaround solutions and a myriad of offline and out of date spreadsheets. This has a catastrophic impact on project control with misalignment between planning levels and high-level key milestone plans being disconnected from low-level detailed plans. This lack of plan alignment means fundamental project controls such as Earned Value (EV) progress tracking are not available, understood or trusted. Material data accuracy is also impacted, with part numbering, stock level and fitted status errors leading to supply chain and logistics issues across the project.

While correcting such misalignments may seem difficult to achieve, it is not impossible where focus is put on training and using the planning systems correctly. In addition, building clear planning KPIs and tying these into project performance reviews can have a dramatic effect. One client achieved an increase in plan alignment from 26% to 98% in just six weeks through a focussed campaign on planning governance leading to a rapid increase in the trust the wider business had in the plan and confidence in associated EV metrics.

2. Plan ownership

Establishing a sense of ownership and accountability for the plan is invaluable and must involve representatives from all teams from the outset. All too often we see planning teams working in isolation away from the engineering, production, supply chain and sub-contractor teams. This results in poor behaviours through a lack of ownership and accountability for enacting the plan once it has been “agreed”.

Active engagement between the various departments is vital to establish a healthy tension between operations and planning to strike a balance of a stretching plan, while ensuring understanding of the other parties’ issues. We have seen this achieved in a number of ways depending on the organisation, such as:

  • Physically locating the planning team alongside the delivery team
  • Pairing up individuals in operations and planning teams to provide a “go to person” to resolve issues
  • Encouraging planning teams out onto the shop floor to appreciate the true state of a project
  • Redeploying planning resource to areas of the project they had previously worked to bring expertise and create a direct link between the planning and operations teams

Furthermore, empowering the workforce to take responsibility for highlighting issues with the plan is another important step. At one site, the production team had fed back that they had received an identical incorrect work instruction four times on four consecutive ships, before giving up on the fifth ship and using their own experience to work off-plan and get the job done. To facilitate this required clear communication channels back to the planning teams, and any changes made to the plan should then be communicated back, so that individuals can see their input is valued and has been taken on board.



3. Plan visibility and accessibility

To be successful, everyone needs to be able to access the plan. Working to just one source of data removes the time spent challenging and questioning the results of multiple data sources and allows more time to be spent actually progressing the project. Plans should be intuitive enough to allow you to drill down into the detail from the top-level milestones, and ultimately help you to drive the right actions. It should also be shared and communicated with the workforce to build collective responsibility and ownership among the team.

A successful example of this comes from one build project where the critical path was made visible to the entire workforce at all levels. Critical path work was highlighted at daily planning meetings and laminated cards highlighting critical path jobs were provided to the workforce. This increased awareness of the implications of downtime on critical jobs and months of potential risk were mitigated with key milestones achieved on time. In this instance the plan was cascaded down into tailored communication that had the effect of mobilising the workforce towards a common goal and relentlessly driving progress towards it.

4. Open and collaborative culture

Moving towards a culture of openness and collaboration around the plan is key to building a successful link between planning teams and the rest of the workforce. This is sentiment which is agreed by Grant Steven Head of Surface Combatants Outputs at Babcock International states:

Engagement at all stages of the end to end planning process is key to developing a credible and enabled plan.

At one site, the plan wasn’t trusted and therefore wasn’t followed. This meant that operations were forced to manage the build offline, often leading to incorrect prioritisation. Engaging the operations teams to voice their frustrations and putting in place initiatives to resolve them started to build confidence in the plan. After communicating success stories and planning policies, the operations team began to believe the plan was accurate and, over a 12-month period, confidence in the plan (measured through a workforce questionnaire) went from 44% to over 70%.

Building plan adherence into business recognition schemes is another important step to improving openness and collaboration. Behaviours that support plan adherence and improvement should also be championed by the leadership group. Frequent visible demonstrations of the business’ commitment to the plan and its maintenance will help to drive a business culture of improvement and ownership rather than defensiveness and blame. This cultural improvement should also feed into customer relations as it becomes visible on site. Downtime caused by out of sequence working, reworking and inefficiency from non-enabled work, could be mitigated if all involved contributed and committed to the plan.

Responding to the four points discussed in this article in order to create and maintain a credible plan through the lifecycle of a project does take time, leadership and investment. But from our experience this investment yields huge dividend in improved project delivery. How will you look to take your planning capability to the next level and incorporate these key learnings to accelerate successful delivery of your projects?

This article was written by Stephen Wilson with support from Leo Martin, Maritime Transformation Director at BAE Systems.