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Why Projects Fail: An Overview on Operational Readiness (OR)

The conversation today takes us on an exploratory journey into the often-bewildering realm of project failures, providing an acute analysis of a particular aspect known as Operational Readiness (OR). Allow me to guide you through some of the quotes concerning project misfires that have reverberated through the corridors of the business world in recent decades.


One groundbreaking research in the 80s, focusing on 35 Australian gold mines, discerned that a staggering two-thirds were in dereliction of their planned production targets, with an inability to extract the desired ounces of gold. More alarming yet, a mere 10% fulfilled their commercial output plans, a dismally inadequate proportion by any measure.


From the archives of Mining.com came revelations that globally, cost overruns plagued two-thirds of mining endeavors. EY (Ernst and Young) piercing gaze into the universe of mega projects—those titanic, multimillion-dollar ventures—revealed a consistent theme: approximately two-thirds manifested budget overextensions; 62% displayed financial anomalies.

The most ominous statistic emerged from Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PWC), highlighting that a mere 5% of companies completed their projects successfully. When variables like deadlines, costs, scopes, and benefits are intermingled, that figure precipitates to a paltry couple of percentage points. This raises a profound query: despite a long history of project management, why does mastery elude us, even in an age replete with technological advancements and innovative methodologies? The answer seems to suggest a fundamental incapability within the sphere of project execution, casting a shadow on modern-day management techniques.



Let's delve into the underlying causes that often lead to the derailment of projects!


Let’s shed some enlightening insights. When working with professionals immersed in project environments, the majority of their energy is typically invested in technical issues and supply chain matters. Whether grappling with equipment malfunctions, corrosion challenges, or ensuring timely product delivery, these areas consume most of the focus.

Interestingly, studies, including those by PwC, have revealed that a mere 8% of project failures can be attributed to these 'top of the list' factors. Astonishingly, the remaining 92% is primarily connected items converging around one central theme: management. It's not the technical hurdles that topple most projects; rather, it's a failure in management. This emphasizes the crucial role of Operational Readiness (OR) and hints at a need for a paradigm shift in how projects are approached and executed.


Decoding Operational Readiness: A Multifaceted Approach to Ensuring Project Success


What precisely does the term "Operational Readiness" (OR) signify, and why does it matter so immensely in the realm of projects? Though the words themselves seem unambiguous, the concept conveys varied meanings to different individuals and contexts.

In one sense, OR pertains to a capital project, perhaps an asset or a specific piece of equipment like a substantial pump or generator. The focus here is on the capability to deliver a smooth startup, a gradual and planned ramp-up, culminating in sustainable production. These stages must be methodically crafted, aiming, for instance, to grow production from 20% to 80% within a defined period.

A more distilled definition centers around the functionality of the investment. It's about the realization of the intended purpose, be it producing, packaging, or generating materials, coupled with having a proficient and well-trained team to run it.

Yet another aspect of OR revolves around augmenting value in delivering a product or service through varied systems, processes, and procedures. Simultaneously, it entails minimizing risks, ensuring readiness, and planning for contingencies.

The idea of an independent person or team standing separate from both the engineering and client side embodies the essence of OR, providing the needed push or challenge to both sides to meet expectations and readiness levels.


Key elements of Operational Readiness


This multifaceted concept illustrates why Operational Readiness isn't just about turning a switch on; it's about orchestrating a symphony of elements that harmonize into a successful and sustainable operation. Whether evaluating the technical specifications or the human component OR is an essential ingredient that governs the vitality and viability of a project.

Consider the approach of an engineering company, which hands over manuals and imparts fundamental training. This scenario, while common, hardly aligns with the profound understanding required to operate complex processes. Responsibility, in this context, lies heavily with the client. Operational readiness isn't merely a checklist of health, safety, or ISO standards; it is a nuanced, multi-layered system that necessitates genuine buy-in from all involved.

Picture operational readiness as a structure supported by various pillars or sectors of green zones. Contained within this loop, a smaller, iterative cycle called "Define, Plan, and Execute" emerges. Its presence signifies that each activity in the larger loop may repeat two or three times, symbolizing the continuous refinement and implementation of strategies.


Preparing for Success: A Comprehensive Guide to Operational Readiness

1. Setting Operational Strategies and Budgets

  • What It Means: A year or two before going live, plan your operating and maintenance budgets in detail, considering training and the actual cost to run the plant or operation.

  • Why It Matters: Beyond the high-level engineering cost, understanding how you'll run your operation is key to efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

2. Scoping and Tracking

  • What It Means: This involves planning the scope and tracking of the operational readiness work, including commissioning, training, monitoring, and integrating with the project schedule.

  • Why It Matters: Ensuring these activities are coordinated with engineering and embedded in the project schedule ensures a seamless transition.

3. People and Management

  • What It Means: Plan who will be part of the team, determine communication strategies, and consider how to integrate the project into existing systems.

  • Why It Matters: Smooth integration ensures that the project blends into existing production controls and quality management systems.

4. Tie-Ins and Handovers

  • What It Means: Understand potential interferences and shutdowns, and plan performance tests and handovers between engineering and operational teams.

  • Why It Matters: Proper planning for these critical points can make or break the transition from construction to operation.

5. Risks and Contingency Planning

  • What It Means: Perform detailed risk analysis and have contingency plans for critical aspects affecting the bottom line or health and safety.

  • Why It Matters: This ensures the project is prepared for unforeseen circumstances and minimizes potential negative impacts.

6. Safety, Health and Environment

  • What It Means: Plan implementation of operational health & safety and environmental management systems

  • Why It Matters: To make sure that the processes are either developed or integrated into existing company systems.

7. Maintenance and Materials

  • What It Means: Planning for automation, IT communication, maintenance reliability, and work environments.

  • Why It Matters: This high-level planning ensures readiness for all aspects of operations, including offices, desks, chairs, phones, and radios.

Operational readiness is not just a checklist. It requires a depth of understanding and planning to ensure a smooth transition from construction to operation. This comprehensive guide provides a clear roadmap for success, from setting clear strategies to understanding the dangers of point estimates. By embracing operational readiness early, you can minimize the probability of failure and set your project on the path to success.


At Analyze and Improve, our goal is to tailor these principles to each client's unique needs, ensuring that projects run smoothly and on schedule. Whether through timely operational readiness assessments or creating contingency plans to address potential gaps, we strive to mitigate risk and align the project with the client's objectives. It's about putting the odds in our favor, by recognizing and acting on uncertainties early in the process, even when time is constrained. This thoughtful, customized approach amplifies the likelihood of success, promoting not just readiness but confidence and resilience in the face of complex project demands.


Let's turn your challenges into opportunities and put the odds in your favor. Your successful project awaits! contact us to learn more


FAQ Section for "Why Projects Fail: An Overview of Operational Readiness (OR)"


1. What is the main purpose of this blog? This blog sheds light on the crucial role of Operational Readiness (OR) in determining the success or failure of projects. By understanding OR, readers will gain insight into common pitfalls and best practices for ensuring project success.

2. What is Operational Readiness (OR)? Operational Readiness refers to the preparedness of an organization to implement a project or change successfully. It encompasses all the procedures, systems, capabilities, and resources required for smooth transitions and sustained project performance.

3. How does OR prevent projects from failing? OR ensures that all facets of a project are considered, planned for, and adequately resourced before implementation. It helps in identifying potential challenges and mitigating them in advance, ensuring a smoother transition and avoiding costly oversights.

4. What is the Monte Carlo method? The Monte Carlo method can be applied to assess uncertainties and risks in projects. It's most effective when used early in the project lifecycle. This prevents complications from overly complex spreadsheets later on and avoids the need for ad-hoc buffers. Starting early with the Monte Carlo also allows for the use of historical data, leading to richer, more accurate analysis.

5. When's the best time to incorporate risk analysis tools like Monte Carlo in a project?

As emphasized, it's best to introduce such tools as early as possible. This ensures a simpler, more quality-rich assessment, avoiding late-stage complications and providing more meaningful insights.


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