Turnaround / Shutdown Schedule Optimization during Planning and Execution

Optimizing the Turnaround/Shutdown (TAR/SD) duration will mitigate the risk of having contractors in the plant longer than needed and will help minimize plant downtime. Optimum TAR/SD duration is one of the biggest indicators for competitiveness, so optimizing it is a key to the success of the business. In fact, some public companies report TAR/SD duration impact on their financial statements.

The development of the schedule needs to start with having a scheduling premise in place to align the methodology across all functions (Capital, Operations, and Mechanical). The level of detail in the schedule, ideally, needs to be a shift or so—too much or not enough detail creates confusion. It needs to be developed using industry norms, with some well-understood factors for the specific region and/or site. The schedule contingency, if any, needs to be added at the end of the schedule—importantly, it can’t be embedded in the tasks. All items (operations, capital projects) executed in the Turnaround/Shutdown need to be included a single integrated schedule.

Optimizing the TAR/SD during the planning phase is normally facilitated by an external expert and requires the intervention of execution contractors, operations, engineering—pretty much all key areas of the organization. Having the team review the schedule drives organization alignment and increases the chances of success during execution. The optimization involves the identification and development of mitigations for safety, quality, and risks associated with critical and near-critical path items.

Ideally, during the schedule optimization review, you will visualize and run analytics on the execution of the project, especially for critical and near-critical path items. Some leaders use rapid-scan 3D models (which are fairly cheap at this time) connected to the scheduling tool to run a simulation of the project execution or 4D.

During the execution, the schedule is used to manage/drive the work; however, it could be further optimized depending on the speed of the Turnaround/Shutdown. The TAR/SD manager will need to make the decision to compress the schedule (if the execution is moving faster than planned) or realign resources (if things are moving slower than planned). In order to make this decision, the TAR/SD manager will need to have a reliable and up-to-date schedule.

Scheduling tools allow verification of an update directly from the field using tablets or smartphones. This is a great advantage to consider, because it increases schedule reliability and provides a near real-time schedule.

Improving the Turnaround/Shutdown schedule will typically reduce duration by 10% to 15% and cost by 15% to 25%.

High-level Approaches

Schedule optimization during planning phase

Schedule optimization is normally performed three to six months before the start of the TAR/SD by an integrated team and is normally facilitated by an external expert. The review team includes people executing the work. Two major areas are covered during the review: the alignment and the development of the actual schedule optimization.

The alignment includes the assignment of the review items. The items include critical and near-critical path items (typically five to ten items). This phase involves brainstorming main issues and laying the ground for the actual schedule review.

The development phase involves understanding of the purpose and boundaries, desired end, ideas and solutions, and finally identification of limits and concerns. Depending on the complexity, it normally takes four to twelve hours per item and adjustments are performed directly in the scheduling software.

The output of the process includes a completed (1) planning review, (2) schedule review, and (3) risks identification and mitigation. The planning review provides work scope confirmation for critical and near-critical path items identifying work methods, safety, quality, resources, materials, equipment, tools, and contracting strategy. The schedule review evaluates integrated critical and near-critical paths and identifies improvements in activity logic and sequence, resource requirements, and durations. Last, the risk assessment identifies threats to achieving the overall duration and provides contingency plans to remove or mitigate high risks. (Figure 1)

Figure 1 – Schedule Optimization during the Planning Phase

Schedule optimization during execution phase

During the execution, the scheduler needs to integrate all discovery work into the schedule and reschedule several times. The schedule must be up to date and reflect progress in the field.

The Turnaround/Shutdown manager will need to rely heavily on the Project Controls leader and the tools’ information to understand actual progress and the forecasted completion. Normally around the middle of the TAR/SD execution, a decision can be made to either compress or consider recovery mitigation to deliver the TAR/SD as per the premise.

Conditions for Success

During the planning phase

In order for the Schedule Optimization to be a success, the following areas require some attention in the preparation activities:

  1. Management Sponsor Team: The role of the sponsor team is to ensure that the optimization review is properly chartered and staffed and that after the review conditions are such that all necessary follow-up work is completed.
  2. Team Membership: Participants should represent a wide range of perspectives and expertise. Teams should be populated with a few individuals who are not afraid to ask the all-important “why” questions or offer ideas that break the mold of traditional thought. The ideal size of a team is five to six.
  3. Schedule Optimization Statement: The quality of the Schedule Optimization and its associated statement are critical. If the issue is too broad with multiple problems, or too thin, it may not be suitable to the structured analysis of the schedule optimization review. If the issues are not clearly stated, the team dynamics can quickly become complicated.
  4. Timing: Time management frequently becomes a real issue. Anticipation of the difficulty of each schedule optimization, team assignment, etc. is important. That approach also helps with subsequent team dynamics especially when outsiders are involved. Any preparation done by the participants in advance certainly helps.
  5. Anticipation of Follow-up Work: Participants and sponsors should be aware that extensive follow-up is generally required to bring new ideas to fruition. The review generally works at the concept level versus minute details. Appropriate attention to detailed development of revised and/or new procedures post review makes the real difference between long-term successes of the review versus a simple “feeling good” at its conclusion.

During the execution phase

For Schedule Optimization during execution of the Turnaround/Shutdown, the following areas require attention:

  1. Leadership Team Alignment: The leadership team needs to work closely with the Turnaround/Shutdown manager and all organization functions to understand the progress of the Turnaround. The team will need to support adjustments in the schedule during the execution of a TAR/SD.
  2. Organization Alignment: The organization needs to be aligned on the execution of the TAR/SD and needs to understand that adjustments could be made during the execution.
  3. General Contractor Partnership: The contractor is the main player in the execution of the TAR/SD, will need to be part of the decision process, and will have vested interest in compressing the schedule.
  4. Ideal Target Type of Contract: This type of contract will drive the contractor to accelerate—safely and with the highest quality—the completion of the TAR/SD event. The contractor will actually benefit when things got well.


An optimum schedule requires intervention from the entire organization and the people translating it into execution. During the execution, the plan will drive the work; however, it could be further optimized depending on the progress of the Turnaround/Shutdown.

Technology could be used during the planning to visualize the execution. During the execution, near real-time accurate updating is key to further optimize the schedule or mitigate a potential delay.

How can BRG Help?

Using in-depth industry knowledge and experience, BRG’s Oil and Gas consulting practice experts specialize in advising clients on understanding issues, developing solutions, and supporting execution. Our team has deep experience in helping to drive value through upstream, midstream, downstream, and petrochemical operations.

Prepared By:

Walter Pesenti


+1 (310) 871-5345

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, position, or policy of Berkeley Research Group, LLC or its other employees and affiliates.