Case Study: Impact of AWP Methodology on Project Execution

Executive Overview

Company D (the Owner) is one of the largest producers of crude oil from Canada’s oil sands. It operates a large oil sand mine, utilities plant, bitumen extraction plant and upgrading facility that processes bitumen and produces value-added light, sweet crude oil for domestic consumption.

Company D operates two mine trains which had to be relocated by the end of 2013, in order to sustain a stable, efficient foundation for future bitumen production due to tailings storage constraints. At the mine site, the two existing mine trains will be dismantled, relocated, and reassembled in the new location within two back to back, 24 hour per day, 65 day shutdown periods..

The criticality of the project resides in its novelty and its potential disruptive impact on extraction activities. The project is extremely labor-intensive and requires an intensive coordinate effort between project participants in order to not exceed the mandatory delivery date. After three years of intense planning activities, the construction team performed the complete relocation and startup in 130 days (65 days per train).

Company D managed 7 separate contractors performing the relocation work, including all necessary interfaces. Each Contractor was involved in the planning activities as early as possible, in some cases as early as FEED for the heavy haul / heavy lift contractor. COMPANY D paid particular attention at including constructability principles during the development of engineering. The output of the planning phase consisted in the complete scope definition throughout a set of IWPs (or “job cards”), which included a 12-hours shift with a Level 5 Schedule definition. After their completion, the IWPs were sent to the various Contractors’ supervisors for a final consistency check. In accordance with the schedule-driven nature of the project, the progressing process of each IWP was performed by Owner’s Superintendents on an hourly basis.

After project completion, the construction team reported that all major performance indicators overcame planned estimates:

  • Safety: Over 4 million man-hours with zero incidents (TRIR = 0.58).
  • Schedule: The project was completed on-time, without recurring to schedule reserves.
  • Cost: The project was completed saving more than 15% of planned TIC. Contractors reported also a field productivity higher than average.
  • Quality: Project scope had many small changes (25% from the original baseline) and reworks hardly affected the relocation process.

Project description

Sector: Industrial
Contract type: CM
(Separate Contractors for FEED/Detailed Design/Procurement, Civil/ Structural, Roads, High Voltage, Pipelines, Mechanical/Electrical, and Heavy Haul / Heavy Lift individually managed/coordinated by Company D.)
Subsector: Oil & Gas
Project cost: $1.0 billion CAD (4.0 million hours)
Project type: Relocation
Construction duration: 18 months Relocation Duration: 130 days
Project location: Alberta, Canada
On-site field (peak) effort: 1150 manpower (80% direct)

In 2013, the CM Contractor performed a mega construction project that involved the relocation of two existing plants to a new strategic pit. The relocations and rebuilds are necessary to support mine development advances and for the placement of consolidated tailings in pit. The existing facilities mainly consisted in three Trains that transport the oil sands to two Primary Separation Vessels (PSVs). The main criticality of the project concerned the necessity to maintain standard levels of production during the relocation of two of the three trains and of related refinery equipment. The high risk of losing one of the working trains, mainly due to the extreme working conditions, further increased the necessity of pursuing construction operations at the highest levels of effectiveness. Hence, during the relocation of one train, the temporary shutdown of another train would decrease the production capacity by 50%, thus hampering the profitability of Company D. The project is therefore almost purely schedule-driven.

The ten major equipment movements included the crusher, the surge bin feed conveyor, the surge facility, the mix box feed conveyor, and the slurry preparation tower (two trains x 5 pieces). All these major components required the use of Self Propelled Modular Transporters (SPMTs) to be relocated, as each of them had a tonnage of the order of thousands and dimension exceeding a 10-storey building. Ancillary to the relocation, the project included various construction activities: structural, mechanical, electrical, piping, instrumentation and civil (e.g. removal and salvage of reclamation materials, overburden removal in advance of oil sands ore recovery, and ecological restoration of altered mine site areas, as well as construction of two large Mechanical Stabilized Earth (MSE) Walls). In addition, the Owner envisaged a key opportunity to perform an extensive set of maintenance activities on the major equipment and on the transportation infrastructure. The construction team cooperated with the maintenance department that pushed to maximize the amount of maintenance activities during the relocation process.

Project definition phase started in February 2008 and project development phase in January 2010. The intensive planning activities targeted a complete relocation within the shortest lead-time.

Starting from an initial relocation duration of 180 days, the construction team introduced aggressive measures (e.g. ramp-up production) and finally proposed a project execution of 130 days. In particular, the project is divided in two major branches of 65 days each, in correspondence of the relocation of the two trains, throughout two continuous shifts of 12 hours per day. As the other projects executed within the Alberta region, the weather represents the major risk factor that can significantly slow down work productivity.

Seven major Contractors were utilized to pursue the project scope. In addition, 30 minor Contractors were employed for ancillary services such as site cleaning, camp, bussing, logistics or equipment refueling. The Contractors have been carefully selected by considering their level of expertise and their planning capabilities (e.g. adherence to AWP methodology).

From a methodological perspective, the present case study proposes an excellent example of AWP implementation under critical schedule requirements. Also, the uniqueness, the complexity and the size of the project constitute three additional elements of uncertainty, which stress the robustness of the methodology when adopted with an extremely high level of detail. Data have been collected by means of primary (7 direct face-to-face interviews) and secondary sources (reports and IWP documentation). In addition, multiple project participants have been interviewed (the CM Contractor and three major Contractors), in order to triangulate data and to provide a multi-faceted viewpoint about the implementation of AWP methodology.

Prior Construction Experience

During the last decade, the CM Contractor has been implementing the concept of scope decomposition through the provision of “job cards”, which included a detailed set of daily activities derived from a robust schedule and related drawings from the engineering. During the years, the concept of “job cards” extended to the procurement function, taking account of site materials, equipment, and ancillary site services. As a natural progression, the company adopted the AWP methodology for the execution of the relocation project. The main difference with the previous planning experience consists in the increased effort in the initial project phase with the aim of obtaining a robust and agreed schedule definition with all project participants. Hence, the novelty of the project hampered the use of standard methods of schedule. The lack of norms and methods has been compensated by involving experienced construction people within the planning team. CM Contractor stores internal records of the various projects performed around the world, with the objective of formulating specific construction estimates for the various construction disciplines. For this specific project, the level of novelty did not allow to replicate and use these estimates and the construction team relied mostly on the experience of its own members.

The pool of Contractors showed a variegated experience about AWP methodology. On the one side, two Mechanical-Electrical-Construction (MEC) Contractors reported that the companies’ previous planning process consisted in providing the field personnel with design deliverables, which were translated into construction deliverables similar to IWPs. However, these deliverables had a low level of details (broad scope, schedule definition, resources involved). The first MEC Contractor described that the detail and the frequency of control activities were superficial and discontinuous. The Construction Manager of the second MEC Contractor experienced long information lead-time during project execution, with continuous time-absorbing feedback loops between engineering and construction. On the other side, an Insulating-Cladding (IC) Contractor was not familiar at with AWP methodology. The Project Control Manager stated that the company’s previous planning procedure consisted in a similar scope breakdown process that was lacking in formalization and documentation. In particular, the format of the package was not complete and consistent with field operations (missing drawings and specification), so that the plans were not reliable and resulted in budget and schedule overruns. The main problem was the limited involvement of the execution personnel in the upfront project definition, which resulted in continuous RFI generation because of the numerous gaps in the package data with lacks of complete drawings and specifications.

AWP Implementation

The criticality of pursuing schedule adherence required a punctual and complete definition of project definition into daily construction shifts. In 2008, the CM Contractor started the definition of project by assembling the execution/construction team. Project definition consisted in an intense coordination with major contractors and suppliers involved, in order to minimize project risk and align project objectives. The Construction Manager CM indicated AWP as the optimal methodology to achieve an agreed and realistic project plan that is able to solve production constraints in accordance with the various supply chain participants. At this project step, it was essential to achieve acceptance by project stakeholders on the adoption and on the deployment of AWP methodology. In order to promote accountability among project participants, COMPANY Ds’ team included 3rd Party Contract AWP Champions throughout the whole project life cycle.

The whole project has been simulated through a 4-D modeling tool, which depicted how the relocation would have taken place (e.g. interactions between cranes and SPMTs). The 4-D model represented the tool that provided a detailed view of project activities, mainly for educational and interface analysis

purposes before project execution took place. Besides that, the CM Contractor relied on the proprietary customized IT suite that included the Project Completion System (PCS) and was integrated with other planning software (e.g. Primavera, Skyline). The IT suite could be accessed from tablets, as the next evolution of the PCS – now paper-based – will comprehend reviews and approvals almost in real-time with field operations.

AWP Procedure

Since 2010, COMPANY D set up an early planning construction team. At the beginning of the planning process a total of 150 CWPs at the sub-system level had been identified, which was then reduced to 35 CWPs for the major systems. For this particular project, CWPs were structured by discipline – like EWPs – and not by area. The output of this phase was a Level 2 Schedule.

Major contractors had one year to develop, revise and agree the detailed construction sequence with COMPANY D. As the main focus of the project concerned the relocation of major equipment, the constructability was considered essential and the construction resources within the team were as large as the engineering resources. Afterwards, the necessary materials and equipment requirements were planned in accordance with project estimates, considering the levels of productivity characterizing the various jobs. The output of this phase was the definition of a Level 3 Schedule.

COMPANY D demonstrated a considerable commitment and control over AWP implementation by proposing the methodology, the systems, the procedures and the guidance to the various project members. COMPANY D was actively involved in the development of the Level-3 Schedule; subsequently it delegated the execution of the detailed plan to the contractors in accordance with their assigned scope. Since then, the COMPANY D played a constant coordination and control role (e.g. ensuring that the number of supervisors was large enough to control the execution of each IWP on each shift).

Method Statements: The Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) engaged by COMPANY D working with the CM Contractors’ Superintendents developed comprehensive ‘Method Statements’ for each major piece of equipment. The document included a detailed scope statement and strategy along with a specific Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) and an Inspection and Test Plan (ITP) that were unique to the scope. The Workface Planners utilized the Method statement as the parent document for the development of Job Cards (IWPs).

This led to a final output of the planning process, which was a detailed shift-by-shift Level-6 Schedule of IWPs with successors and dependencies that led to equipment relocations and reconnections. The IWPs were then checked for consistency and content through a bottom-up approach by the field supervisors.

The packages were planned to be completed in a single 12-hours shift. In particular, each shift was composed of 10 working hours and a time buffer of 2 hours. As the crews were composed of up to 10 persons, an IWP contained up to 100 working hours. The construction team organized the production on 2 shifts per day, in order to obtain a non-stop sequence of activities.

Content of IWPs

A typical IWP included the following main sections:

  1. Summary – Table of Contents
  2. Work Scope
  3. Safety Requirements
  4. Sequence of Activities
  5. Quality Control and Permits
  6. Bill of Materials
  7. Sub Trades
  8. Equipment
  9. Drawings and Engineering Documents
  10. Completion Punch List

Each IWP had 3 to 5 pages. Three of the Contractors reported an overwhelming number of IWPs that hampered the execution of an accurate final check by the Superintendents.

Issuance of IWPs

The final revision of the IWP is sent electronically to the Contractor’s Superintendent and Workface Planner after the final approval of the construction team. The various Contractors printed the electronic IWPs and issued them to the field. In this case study, the consolidated version of IWP was sent to the various Contractors before the initial execution date, to allow them to perform a final check for schedule and resource consistency. The CM Contractor required that Contractor’s Superintendents revised and signed the final version of IWPs at least 2 weeks before the starting date.

A backlog of IWPs was maintained by each Contractor in order to absorb potential delays due to unforeseen circumstances.

Progressing IWPs

Major activities appeared in the project schedule and the daily IWPs where tracked on a skyline in excel, that showed a daily list of the packages scheduled for execution. Each Contractor’s Superintendent reported the progressing of IWPs on a daily basis and communicated the data to the Workface Planner and to CM Contractors’ Schedulers, who updated the project schedule and the Skyline. For the control process, the CM Contractor defined specific procedures and designated the monitoring of each IWP to a specific Superintendent.

Meetings between COMPANY D and other Contractors’ representatives were organized at the end of each shift, every 12 hours. Given the tight schedule requirements, the focus of the meetings was on eventual delays and on possible alternative solutions to minimize the impact of unexpected contingencies.

Materials Management

This specific project did not face particular criticality from a materials management perspective. The relocation activities made extensive use of consumable materials (e.g. fittings, fasteners), which were simply bagged and tagged to the field two weeks before the starting date. Materials requirement were identified from the content of the various EWPs, which were translated in BOMs. Contractors developed their own purchase orders after Level 3 Schedule definition. As materials were quite standard and with a limited stockage value, Contractors purchased them in advance, although all long- lead items were procured by the FEED/Detailed Design engineering contractor.

The materials management aspects were entirely covered by the AWP procedure, within a dedicated section of the IWP. The IT system adopted by the CM Contractor allowed material requirements to be stored electronically and constantly updated and synchronized with construction operations

Organizational Implications

The construction team was composed of:

  • Construction Managers of COMPANY D.
  • Subject Matter Experts of COMPANY D
  • CM Contractors’ Construction Managers.
  • 3rd Party AWP Champions

The Contractors allocated different resources to the planning teams, in accordance with their knowledge of AWP methodology. In general, the companies with higher expertise related to AWP were able to employ a reduced number of Workface Planners, with other things the same (e.g. the CM Contractor had 1 WP per 100 craft workers; IC had 1 WP for 50 craft workers). Besides the level of expertise, another factor of influence was represented by the discipline of construction operations. Repetitive and more certain works required a reduced number of Workface Planners (e.g. relocation activities required on average 1 WP for 80 craft workers; construction activities required on average 1 WP for 60 craft workers).

On the selection of Workface Planners, the CM Contractor’s Project Manager highlighted the importance of selecting people with high levels of construction experience. In this case, the CM Contractor employed planners with prior experience as field supervisors. The IC Contractor had no previous experience with AWP and described that planners’ expertise was not adequate to manage correctly the release sequence of IWPs during project execution and that caused delays and an unfair distribution of workloads between the crews.

For the project as whole, the construction team provided as the following data – peak (see Figure 2):

  • 889 Craft Workers.
  • 15 Workface Planners.
  • 60 Foremen
  • 10 Superintendents.
Figure 2 - Proportion between Field and Planning Personnel.

Figure 2 – Proportion between Field and Planning Personnel.


The present Section aims to assess the impact of AWP methodology on project execution through quantitative and qualitative indicators. The implementation of AWP achieved performance drove a successful project completion, notwithstanding the high levels of risk represented by the size and the schedule of construction activities. Unfortunately, the uniqueness of the project did not allow verifying the inverse relationship (project success is driven by AWP), for example by comparing project performance with those of other projects that did not implemented the methodology, so that project success could not be exclusively related to AWP. However, the present results (with AWP) have been compared with the average results achieved by project participants in the past (without AWP) in order to investigate how AWP influenced construction procedures and operations performance.

Project Performance

Safety Performance

The novelty, the complexity and the long shift duration of construction activities resulted into a high level of safety risk for the workforce. At this purpose, each IWP contained a special section that considered the various risk factors involved within the single package. The section included both general prevention norms as well specific field-level risks, such as the use of scaffold and other known risks. The highest level of safety is required in order to flawlessly execute a project that requires a fast- track execution.

The project achieved better safety records (TRIR = 0,58) if compared to the average of other projects performed in the same geographical area. Zero lost-time injuries happened after more than 4 million working hours.

The CM Contractor’s Construction Manager emphasized the positive impact of AWP on safety performance and also on the attitude of the workforce toward safety. The Project Director of the MEC Contractor highlighted that the major safety benefit consisted in the awareness level that the crew achieved after few hours of working activities. The presence on the same working zone for a prolonged period of time fostered employees’ confidence about the potential hazards and about the preventive measures to take. Also the IC Contractor achieved an excellent safety performance, which was better than company’s historical norm. In particular, the Project Control manager highlighted how the early delivery of IWPs allowed the crews more time to focus on safety.

Schedule Performance

The criticality of schedule adherence for this project is well described by the financial risk for the CM Contractor in case of late delivery. Final schedule performance overcame original estimates and the construction team did not have to use the schedule reserves (20% of total) located between the two relocations.

The Contractors reported that they delivered ahead of schedule, notwithstanding the pressure on exceeding maximum working capacity, because the planning phase has been performed on a realistic and construction-oriented basis.

Cost Performance

Notwithstanding the schedule-driven orientation of the project, the COMPANY D sought to execute the project in the most capital efficient manner, as the funds allocated to the relocation are perceived by the parent company as detraction to the value of site resources.

In particular, the project did not absorb additional resources and was completed saving more than 15% of planned TIC. Both COMPANY D and Contractors reported that field productivity was higher than the average for projects performed without AWP.
Quality Performance

In terms of field reworks, the CM Contractor representatives highlighted that the relocation phase did not incur significant changes, while the construction phase had many small changes (total scope changes corresponded to 25% of total)

A MEC Contractor stated that its percentage of scope change was between 10 and 30 percent. In particular, changes and reworks concentrated in the delivery of work-fronts, with a major impact in the execution access points. The CI Contractor reported many small project changes (minor to 15%) and that field reworks were below 5% and showed a progressive diminishing during project execution.

AWP Benefits, Difficulties and Lessons Learned

Besides the striking performance improvements achieved by the construction team, the present case study proposes also a set of additional and valuable benefits that surely affected the successful execution of the project. The identification of benefits and difficulties, tied to the implementation of AWP methodology, represents a crucial step of the analysis, which is aimed at highlighting the causes at the basis of project success, as well as major criticalities faced by the team. At this purpose, the participants have been also asked to propose the lessons learned related to AWP implementation during this project, in order to provide guidance for other managers and to improve the understanding of the methodology. Table 1 provides an overview of major AWP benefits, difficulties and lessons learned.

AWP Benefits
Reduced UncertaintyFEED Included Constructability Principles Proactive Team CultureCraft Retention Increased Predictability Transferable Know-howRFI Shifted to the Planning PhaseProcess Improvement
Performance Benchmarking
Increased Empowerment
AWP Difficulties
Shortage of Skilled Workface Planners Incomplete Scope DefinitionPoor IT IntegrationDelayed Documentation from Engineering
AWP Lessons Learned
Clarify AWP Rules and ProceduresEarly Engagement of all Contractors

Table 1 – AWP Benefits, Difficulties and Lessons Learned.

Summary of Benefits

Reduced Uncertainty. A MEC Superintendent reported that construction activities had excellent clarity, with a clear explanation of work scope and expectation. In particular, AWP provided significant added value for supporting trades, providing easier take-over, incorporating the contingencies and mitigating the project risk.

FEED Included Constructability Principles. COMPANY D acknowledged higher collaboration between the disciplines, especially between construction and engineering, but also between different construction disciplines. The IC and MEC Contractor highlighted that AWP allowed different disciplines communicating with major intensity in order to agree on the definition of the working sequence. This was particularly useful when construction activities showed interrelations between disciplines (e.g. between mechanical and electrical).

Proactive Team Culture. The early involvement of engineering and construction representatives from various contractors shaped a proactive team culture that benefited from the mutual know-how of both the departments, especially during the constraint minimization process. Superintendents reported that they had more time focusing on field activities, thus being actively oriented towards the preventive solution of potential problems.

Craft Retention. Contractors highlighted that the rate of personnel turnover decreased during project execution. Superintendents underlined the relevance of craft retention for a labor market as Alberta. The interviews highlighted the higher morale characterizing the working environment and the higher alignment between the crews and the construction team.

Increased Predictability. Despite the fact that the project had unique characteristics, the experience of construction professionals was gathered toward the definition of a trustworthy and robust working sequence. The final outcome of the planning process was a set of IWPs that provided detailed scope decomposition with high construction predictability.

Transferable Know-how. The MEC Contractors reported that AWP reduced the impact of personnel turnover during project execution. The packages are designed to be complete and to be readily used by each Superintendent. Thus, delegation is easier as well as the information transfers both internally and externally across the boundaries of the single organization (e.g. for reporting or RFI management).

RFI Shifted to the Planning Phase. The CI Contractor faced a number of RFIs higher than planned. Engineering was not promptly generating drawings and some unexpected variations were faced on-site. However, the major part of RFIs were generated by the Workface Planners during the planning process (70%), not hampering field activities.

Process Improvement. The IC Contractor noted that after few weeks of training, field workers notably improved construction operations by following AWP procedure. The sequence of activities and the scope of work were assimilated by the superintendents in advance and the packages were defined by skilled people with construction background.

Performance Benchmarking. The causes for IWPs non-compliance and delays have been thoughtfully investigated after project execution. As the Owner will require other massive relocations in the following years, the construction team performed a detailed analysis of the causes at the origin of construction problems.

Increased Empowerment of Workforce. As they are involved since the initial stages of planning, construction personnel had major influence over the whole project development. During project execution, the higher level of knowledge about project activities allowed minimizing the impact of changes through a prompt resource re-allocation.

Summary of Difficulties

Shortage of Skilled Workface Planners. As highlighted by the IC Contractor, the major difficulty to successfully implement AWP was represented by the higher number of resources required upfront the planning process (triple of planners compared to previous project of a similar size). Contractors also noted that, especially at the beginning of the process, they were lacking of skilled construction people to include in the Workface Planning team, hampering the effectiveness of the planning process. However, as pointed out by a Project Control Manager of a MEC Contractor, the success of the project consisted exactly in overcoming these initial barriers, thus strongly committing on the early planning process and involving all project participants since the beginning. After an initial resistance period – especially because of the minor flexibility allowed to superintendents – the process has been accepted by the entire organization.

Incomplete Scope Definition. AWP procedure was implemented with extreme accuracy for the relocation process but the construction process showed some scope-creep – concerning in particular the turnover – that increased the amount of reworks and exposed the project to over-schedule risk.

Delayed Documentation from Engineering. In certain cases IWPs were not updated to their latest version, as well as there were incomplete engineering drawings. As the Superintendents did not want to be accountable for unauthorized operations, the construction process faced some delays.

Lessons Learned

Clarify AWP Rules and Procedures. The various Contractors proposed as a lesson learned that they would have benefited from a defined explanation of the AWP process and of related procedures at the very beginning of the relationship with COMPANY D. The lack of initial training required an additional unilateral effort by the contractor that would have been easily avoided with an improved communication process. As the initial construction team faced some changes during the planning process – mainly due to reassignments and replacements – a knowledge support on AWP process and procedures would have facilitated the various transitions.

Early Engagement of all Contractors. The minor Contractors that were not involved in the planning process faced many difficulties in adapting their procedures to AWP methodology. The main CM Contractor faced high execution risk in not engaging with every Contractor since the initial activities, as even the ancillary construction activities might become the bottleneck of operations if not informed in advance. The main CM Contractor recognized that every Contractor should be involved even if with different levels of engagement. At this purpose, the IC Contractor proposed that the procedures should be customized according to the characteristics of the receiver, highlighting the peculiarities and the changes in responsibility of the various roles.

As mentioned in the Section “Project Description”, the construction team was pulled alongside with the maintenance department during the relocation, which requirements did not exactly match the established project sequence. Given the tight project schedule, the construction team required complete visibility on the repair activities, so that the maintenance department implemented the AWP methodology by delivering their detailed plan of activities. The project was complemented by a collection of services that adopted the same planning methodology in order to achieve the project goal and adhere to project deadline. Interestingly, the present case study proposed a scenario where the Operations & Management (O&M) department adapted their scheduling methodology to those embraced by the Construction department and not the other way around.

It was firmly recognized by the construction team that the straightforward application of AWP methodology allowed them obtaining the highest levels of estimates robustness even for a one-off, complex, equipment-intensive project. The construction team considered AWP a best practice for project planning and execution, especially when the project has binding delivery requirements or the operations contains a high level of novelty in terms of contingent site conditions and project scope.