Case Study: Using Project Management to Recover a Pipeline Scheduling Program

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Our client, an Oil and Gas major, was a year into a pipeline scheduling digital transformation project that was not on track to meet its original deadline. Pipeline scheduling refers to the ability to track and transport crude oil or other products from one point in the system to another.  It relies on meters to track and store data on the flow of liquids from delivery to receipt by customers along various points in the pipeline.

Enhancements to the existing scheduling tool would help ensure smooth pipeline operations for the nearly 850-mile pipeline, as well as support exports and increased capacity at refineries. MI-GSO | PCUBED was brought on board to help manage the recovery of the pipeline scheduling solution.

The Background

The client had kicked off a Pipeline Scheduling Digitization project in early 2019 looking to enhance their core system of record.  Due to the complexity of the new pipeline, the client quickly realized that a bespoke system would better align with their system’s requirements.  The new centralized information system would allow the Accounting, Customer Billing, Operations, Field Engineering, and Management teams to better manage their deliveries and invoicing through visibility of enhanced scheduling data. The data flows from the scheduling system into a central data lake which supports the other functions. Data is also retrieved by the Pipeline Scheduler tool so that the scheduler can progress a schedule from one day to the next and ensure that monthly volume commitments would be made.

However, one of the key challenges faced in the project was changing business processes. The team was trying to hit a moving target. They needed the ability to break down the project into smaller chunks.  They also needed the ability to implement portions of Agile to allow them to better respond to market volatility. 

As the pipeline system was already ready for a soft launch, the goal of the digitization project was to deliver a working minimum viable solution by the original go-live date.

The Solution

With less than 3 months to go live when the M|P project manager was assigned, the project was very much a recovery initiative. The first step in Effective Program Recovery is not to define the problem. It is to correctly define the key stakeholders and get them to define the problem. Only then could the team get everyone marching in the same direction towards delivering.

Another common stumbling block with recovery initiatives is changing resources. Our project manager was actually the third project manager on the project. As such, they needed to establish their credibility with the team from a Project Management perspective before they could truly make traction on the recovery. Initial tasks included a complete overhaul of the existing project plan, performing a financial review, and the completion of a project risk assessment.

The team then met to understand what would make the project a success for each of them. For the Financial department – they needed the ability to connect tariffs to invoices. For Operations, the most important thing was the ability to break down the monthly volume commitments into fungible batches which could be delivered throughout the month. And for the schedulers, it was the ability to optimize batches to meet customer requirements.

In order to define a clear agreement on what was to be delivered, the team needed to clarify the meaning of MVP, or minimum viable product, with both the client teams and the vendor. Only then could they translate that into concrete actions with the development team to move forward.

Finally, the team set up twice-weekly workshops focused on getting the project back on track as well as a weekly re-prioritization workshop. This enabled the team to stay focused on the finish line while also factoring in any re-work required in order to deliver on time.

The Benefits

With equal parts teamwork and strong project management practices, the team was able to overcome hurdle after hurdle, in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, to meet the go-live date as originally planned. The client now has a standard approach to scheduling, utilizing the tool to visualize necessary changes.  They also have the ability to manage forecasting volumes, manage linefill and daily system inventory.  Finally, with the enhancements to the bespoke scheduling tool, the team was able to absorb a multitude of business changes based on the changing market conditions reflective of the post-COVID world.

Additional enhancements to the pipeline scheduling solution have been identified to further improve operational efficiency, ensuring they move from an MVP to a more sustainable end product.

Chris McCourt, Eric Shalayko and Jami Anderson collaborated on this article.