Project Practitioners > Operators As Part Of The Project Team: A Project Managers Perspective

Operators As Part Of The Project Team: A Project Managers Perspective

By Morley Selver, P.Eng IPMA B

  Steam Generators


What Were Those Designers Thinking?

The picture above show a couple of steam generators that we had to demolish as part of a larger project. Each turbine had small bore cooling water supply, cooling water return and a condensate return line going to and from headers located up in the building rafters. The refinery need the space for another project, so the generators and associated piping had to be cleared out. 

It looked simple enough until we got into it. What we found was there were no isolation valves at the headers, so none of the lines could be shut off and demolished. The headers could not be shut down without a complete outage of the refinery, and that wasn’t going to happen. In the end we froze the lines and installed isolation valves on the branch lines up in the rafters. The refinery was not happy about having  to do this procedure as it was out of the norm and they were very safety conscious. This was the last time management allowed this type of procedure to take place. 

The Question Is?

So the question is, “How could these lines be installed without isolation valves?” There could be a couple of possible reasons, they being; trying to cut costs, designers not experienced enough, or there were no Operators on the design team. I have never in my career worked on a project where the Operators would let us install piping without being able to isolate the lines. The refinery has other larger lines that cannot be isolated and are causing all kinds of grief so the trend seems to be a lack of Operators on the design team as the designers should not have done what they did.

To prevent the long term problems to the plant, Operators or an Operations representative should be part of your team. They have responsibilities that you, as the project manager, need to be familiar with. You cannot design your projects in isolation without knowing how the equipment / process will be commissioned, started up, and  operated. Operations involvement is an important task and I will discuss the Operations   responsibilities in this article and the next one. As the project manager you should be seeking out the correct operations representative for your project and the should be on board at the beginning, not the end. When you start out with greenfield projects the operators may not be on board, so you will have to find out from the owner how you will get operations input.

Operations Responsibilities

  1. Their primary responsibility is to review the details involved in the operational design, unit layout, access, etc. You should have regular design review meetings involving both operations and maintenance. These review meetings should be documented and could result in scope changes. So be prepared for scope changes and prepare your documentation accordingly.
  2. Assist in communicating the root cause of operational problems and provide pertinent information for defining the project requirements and needs. When your project involves fixing operational problems, you have to sit with the Operators and really find out what the problem is. You have to make sure you are solving the problem and not just the symptom.
  3. Be the project focal point for Operations by soliciting input and providing feedback to his/her coworkers on project decisions. You do not have 10 operations people on the team but one representative who will answer your questions. The representative will go back to the other operators and relay their input to you. Typically, you will get all the operators when doing process reviews. There should be a couple of representatives available to cover shift work and vacations. 
  4. Review overall project schedule and commit to milestones established for engineering, procurement and construction. Operations input is required to determine commissioning and startup time tables. On a recent project we could only do piping modifications during the dry season. It was a tricky modification as it was an effluent  discharge line that had to keep running so bypasses were necessary. Without operator input in the design and timing, the project would have been very difficult to do. 
  5. Provide practical input for the feasibility study, the technology evaluation, the Process Design Package, PFDs, the Plot Plan and, most importantly, for the P&ID development and review. Operations people have to be involved at the beginning of the project during the feasibility phase. As you get into the process and other reviews you will need more operations people involved. Some reviews can involve twenty plus operations and maintenance people. 
  6. Review project design for operability and functionality concerns. This is important input as the designers will not know how the project will operate. When doing the design you have to figure out what you are trying to do, what the problems are, then sit down with operations to figure out how to do it. The project will have to write a functional specification so the designers need to know how everything will operate. 
  7. Participate in Hazop reviews and pre-start up reviews, and file all review documentation as appropriate. These reviews are important and records have to be on file in case of problems later on. 
  8. Keep operating Unit Foreman and Asset Managers fully informed of project status.  Have responsibility to report problems to foreman to pursue resolution through management, if necessary.  Promote 2-way communication. On one project there was a difference of opinion between operators on how the equipment would run. This was turned over to supervisors to sort out and advise us what they wanted. Again, you have to be aware of scope creep. 
  9. Assist in developing and ensure the completeness and thoroughness of training manuals for the processes being installed and constructed. As the project manager it is your responsibility to get the training material to the appropriate person and to ensure that the training has taken place before you commission and startup the equipment. Not only does training need to take place but manuals may have to be changed. You may have to provide drawings, etc for these manuals. You can not start anything until the training is complete and manuals updated. This could be a big schedule hit if you are not on top of it.

To learn more about Operators responsibilities, join us for our webinar “Operators As Part Of The Project Team: A Project Management Perspective.” on September 18, 2012. 

For information and to register go to the following:




Fundamentals of Project Management

August 28 - 30, 2012

Calgary AB

Information / registration at:  

Fundamentals of PM


Certificate in EPC Project Management

September 10 - 15, 2012

Vancouver, BC 

Information / registration at: 

Vancouver EPC PM

September 22-27, 2012

Doha Qatar

Information / registration at:

September 30 - October 4, 2012

Adu Dhabi UAE

Information / registration at:

October 22 - 26, 2012

Toronto ON

Information / registration at: 

Toronto EPC PM  


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