Why are Turnarounds So Challenging?
“A large turnaround can include up to 150,000 individual activities. With this level of complexity, approximately half of all shutdown projects are delayed by more than 20% and 80% go over budget by more than 10%. Frequently, the work scope increases unexpectedly by up to 50%.” Achieving Turnaround Success, Digital Refining

In most cases, turnarounds represent the most significant portion of any plant's annual maintenance budget. However, due to the high cost of lost production for each hour that units are down, mismanagement of a turnaround can very quickly affect a company's bottom line. Furthermore, turnarounds have unique project management characteristics which make them volatile, unpredictable and challenging. Often requiring decision-making under uncertainty, they’re about assets, people and data; about understanding the risks and battling against the clock; about predicting the unpredictable; about planning and scheduling, adjusting plans and rescheduling - time after time - in order to achieve success.


But as Pete Shirley notes in Paying Attention to the Leading Indicators of Turnaround Outcomes, “Some industry experts suggest that over 70% of all turnarounds are failures and that 40% can be classified as ‘train wrecks’”. Furthermore, McKinsey notes that “Better management of shutdowns and turnarounds can yield schedule and cost improvements of up to 30 percent.” The message is clear – it’s time to get a grip on turnarounds.


Every turnaround is driven by different reasons, goals and objectives. Some are for the integration of a capital project that requires the shutdown of some or all production units. Others are driven by maintenance demands or the need to optimize production performance, improve safety or comply with regulation requirements. Whatever the reasons, they’re all driven by the same challenges.


What Are the Key Issues in Turnarounds?
The starting point of any turnaround is always known. But the process involved to reach completion can often be complicated, full of surprises that easily lead to both delays and cost overruns. The following are the key issues that can significantly impact the successful outcome of any turnaround:

  1. Level of Complexity: Industrial turnarounds are neither simple nor complicated; they are complex. They have multiple variables and unknown dependencies, many of which are only discovered after the actual start of the turnaround.

  2. The Human Factor: Industrial workforces - both workers and managers - tend to be the biggest cause of inefficiency and risk in the workplace. It’s the result of multiple factors, such as human error, lack of communication, insufficient/incorrect reporting, and decision-making based on assumptions and “gut feelings” rather than actual on-the-ground facts and data.

  3. Management of Contractors: While contractors are an essential part of any turnaround, their motivation and drivers are very different to those of owner-operators. and they may lack the big picture.

  4. Scope: The actual status of any equipment involved in a turnaround is unclear until it is actually opened up and inspected. Consequently, turnarounds almost always involve the discovery of additional, unplanned work and scope creep, management of which requires agility and flexibility to create and execute post-discovery action plans that comply as much as possible with timetables and budget.

  5. Scheduling: Every day that units are down and not producing, the plant is losing money. Prevention of delays requires the capture and sequencing of all activities; the assignment of resources and determination of duration of each activity; the horizontal and vertical integration of schedule activities; the establishment of critical paths for all activities; the identification of floats between activities; conducting schedule reviews and risk analyses; and updating the schedule.

  6. Safety: The protection of both personnel and equipment at all times is of paramount importance. But there’s always a conflict between delivering an on-time/on-budget, safe turnaround and meeting constantly-growing inspection cycles, working with highly-complex technologies and ever-increasing demands for safety.

  7. Waiting & Delays: Waiting for people, permits, equipment and info; walking around only to find that workfaces are not available; and receiving incomplete status info, sandbagging and projecting, all which lead to delays and the necessity to adjust plans and reschedule personnel and tools.

How Can You Get a Grip on Your Turnaround?
All these issues can be improved by better management of industrial workforces. By connecting managers in real-time to what’s going on in the field. By learning from past experiences to predict possible challenges. By raising the motivation, productivity and performance of workers and contractors through better communication. By reducing human inefficiencies and risks in the workplace. By sharing knowledge, knowhow and experience to generate more efficient and quicker solutions. By supporting decision-making based on actual facts and insights from the field. All of this can be achieved with digitalization, which offers a range of benefits, including:

  1. The instant availability of data, in any location.

  2. Delivery of consistent and uniform information and elimination of human errors.

  3. Big data analytics to understand trends and make predictions.

  4. Online, real-time data for situational awareness, insights and better decision-making.

  5. Automation of every level of activity, removing the friction and pressure associated with delays, complication and confusion in the movement of information.

  6. Elimination of the need for meetings to discuss what was done yesterday – it’s all on real-time dashboards.

  7. Changing meetings to be forward-looking, objective, data-driven looks at life, with fewer attendees.

  8. Automatic production of reports based on real-time data and customized to different stakeholders.

No matter how long you’ve got before your next turnaround, no matter what your role and interests are in your next turnaround, you can benefit from digitalization. It will make your turnaround execution easier and more efficient. It will enable you to control your turnaround outcomes.


Read our latest eBook: Are You Ready for Your Next Turnaround? to fully understand the turnaround challenges and how digitalization offers the opportunity to turnaround your turnaround.