Hitting the bullseye
Regular turnaround reviews help to plan shutdowns with more efficiency and management – provided that the appropriate mindset and culture of feedback is in place.
by Marco Wagner
What do start-ups and large turnarounds at industrial plants have in common? The demands placed on them – described by experts in both situations as “hit or miss.” Entrepreneurs and Turnaround Managers alike have to develop sustainable concepts in the space of one to two years: the former, to create an economically reasonable product or service that is both in demand and marketable; the latter, to create a detailed time and work plan for their turnaround that is both on-time and on-budget.
If the start-up concept doesn’t work, its very existence will be under threat. In Silicon Valley – the cradle of start-ups – a method called “Lean Start-up” has been established, which is intended to reduce the likelihood of experiencing failure when founding a company. This is particularly helpful for entrepreneurs whose business models, at least initially, are principally based on nothing other than vague assumptions.
Planning a large turnaround is very similar. Planners have to calculate the amount of work, materials, and resources that will be required, while a viable schedule must also be created long in advance of the actual event. But what if some key conditions change in the time leading up to a shut-down and previouslyheld assumptions no longer apply? Lean Start-up founders aim to avoid such unpleasant surprises by learning from what has already been validated. They utilize market research, commission feasibility studies and try out different revenue and accounting models: they don’t just contemplate the consequences of their own actions but instead proactively seek support from experienced experts.
The result of every experiment and every consultation then flows into their business models, meaning that they are in a constant state of improvement right up until the market launch. Turnaround reviews offer the same service to industrial operators. At various times during the turnaround, a team of experienced consultants use comprehensive criteria to analyze the maturity of the event: for example, how many milestones have already been reached, how much of a time buffer has been scheduled, how effective is the risk management process?
A professionally planned TAR Review concerns everything from strategy review to the start of the turnaround and the close-out-review after completion,” says Gert Müller, Director Turnaround at T.A. Cook. At the same time, he explains a fundamental contrast to the start-up scene: in the initial phase, founders are responsible for numerous jobs such as management, controlling, planning, and operations activities simultaneously. If they receive feedback, they have generally requested it themselves, and it is inherently in their interests to implement the feedback as the owner-managers.
According to Müller, “in the case of TAR Reviews, the circumstances are more challenging: an industrial enterprise does not consist of a single person but of many different hierarchies and interests.” A review is usually ordered by a site manager or another manager responsible for several locations. Nevertheless, the turnaround manager and their team are also part of the evaluation, and naturally, they receive feedback at the same time as management. However, “many turnaround managers with whom we have collaborated closely for a review have felt as if they were being monitored,” states Müller, “even though they are often experienced management personnel with a team of ten or more people (and several hundred during the turnaround process).”
The challenge at the beginning of a TAR Review is therefore getting the initial phase right: all participants need to understand that the process is not intended to expose individual employees but should, in fact, establish the maturity of the current project and compare it with best practices. This should be done “as impartially as possible,” says Müller, who adds that, “how a result is perceived depends entirely on your perspective.” A project manager may perceive a certain measure as negative, while a contractor may see it as positive because it helps to minimize project risks, for example. According to Müller, “it is also important to be able to make points in a neutral manner and establish a positive feedback culture.” Consultants can often become a mouthpiece or mediator for a project team in situations where the status of preparations is not ideal – perhaps due to a lack of necessary personnel, tools or training.
At the end of the review, all parties receive information: the stakeholders receive an individual report; the turnaround managers receive a detailed report; and the top management receives a summary. “This helps us to communicate the results in both directions as best we can. ”If recommendations are listened to at the right level, the benefit to the entire organization becomes clear and the feedback that companies receive is not only relevant to the current turnaround but can also be applied to future ones. There is a comparable situation in the start-up scene: At "!*@?-Up-Nights,” former business founders publicly share their failure stories so that others can learn from them.