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Thursday, Jul 07, 2022

Engineering-Operations collaboration is key to project success

A woman presenting standing at a podium

Project teams are accustomed to developing solutions and support systems for all phases of project delivery. From identifying a need for new facilities, teams work together to plan and create documents and procedures for design, construction, and commissioning. However, in the lifecycle of a facility, the project delivery phase is only a small piece of a facility’s life. Its operation is much longer, potentially 25 to 30 years, or longer. As such, at the outset, project teams need to consider the facility’s operation for ultimate project success. This involves identifying what support is needed past the commissioning process, when the engineers, contractors, and suppliers, have typically long left the project. 

Project teams should be considering the end user from start to finish. This may include:

  • Considering ongoing system operation during the design process
  • Getting regular feedback from those who will be responsible for the system
  • Spending time with the operations staff to understand atypical things they are doing to keep the system running
  • Using tools, such as 3D modelling (where appropriate), to improve information sharing and encourage feedback
  • Including the operations team in meetings and on-site throughout the construction process
  • Including operations in as much of the commissioning process as possible 
  • Considering additional training and documentation to support the operational transition from one system to a new one

A man working inside a water treatment plant

For many systems, the transitional period can be the most difficult, highlighting the need for support during the warranty period. During this time, post-construction support needs to:

  • Involve Operators to learn and develop new skills, through training and tools
  • Provide tools for safe operations and ongoing maintenance, such as standard operating procedures and maintenance plans 
  • Identify which activities may require specialized services to support maintenance planning and budgeting 
  • Consider succession and training of new staff and operators

When considering who can provide support during post-construction activities, projects must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Regardless of who develops and provides the support, it is important for the project team to ensure they are included. Many communities already have transition programs and procedures in place to assist in achieving project success.

A group of people gathered outdoors

However, many smaller communities may not have the capacity to develop these programs as their operations and administration teams are already stretched. Coupled with staffing shortages affecting system providers of all sizes, external support may become even more important. As such, existing external support, such as circuit riders and other local resources, should also be considered at project initiation and included in all phases of the project, where reasonable.

Success is more than just engineering excellence, it is the combination of a well-designed facility and a well-supported operations team

Equipment inside a water treatment plant

Considering the operations staff throughout the design of the facility and soliciting appropriate feedback will help the team to create a facility that is sustainable and successful, even after the ribbon cutting. While there is a cost for this additional support, the value brought through the process will more than pay for the money spent up-front.

About the author:

Robyn Casement, P.Eng. is a Water Engineer with 13 years of experience in analysis, planning, design and construction of municipal and Indigenous projects. She has worked as a Project Engineer and Process Designer for water and wastewater projects, from conceptual modelling to detailed design and construction.