That Wasn't So Bad After All!

Apr 13, 2017 -

Planning for a Successful Startup

Anytime I hear phrases such as “Can’t we just…?”, “It’s just plug and play…”, and “What is a MOC?” I know I have my CSU work cut out for me. We shouldn’t just hope that the parts and pieces of a project will successfully fall together. We need a plan.

I was once told that "a goal without a plan is just a wish". Later, I learned that this was a quote from a French writer named Antonine de Saint-Exupery. This quote has resurfaced many times in my life, but I have found it to be an especially resounding truth when it comes to Commissioning and Startup (CSU) planning. If we want a successful startup, we must have an effective plan for that startup.

Some key tasks can be accomplished in each phase of a project that will help predict a more consistent commissioning and startup. These items will also provide metrics and ways to better gauge the process of planning for commissioning and startup activities.

So, what do we want to accomplish?

Phase / Front End Loading (FEL) 1 & 2:

Gain full alignment of the stakeholders toward CSU activities as early as the project’s conceptual phase. Ask questions that gauge the project risks, which helps in identifying and accounting for risks in the cost estimates.

Phase / Front End Loading (FEL) 3:

Ask questions that seek to help the project team, and supporting engineering firms, to understand how CSU activities will be handled and define expectations around those activities. This phase is where a CSU Project Execution Plan (e.g. PEP) should be started, which will begin to add structure to the CSU activities. A “Straw Man” for the CSU team should be created for both the project team and all vendors that will be integrated into CSU planning.

Phase 4 / Detailed Design:

Ask questions that relate the project and its deliverable's to the CSU activities. It is important to define potential “gaps” in information around the planning for CSU and the project deliverables. This will help to consolidate a plan for hand-off between Construction Management, CSU, and Operations.

Phase 5 / Construction Phase:

Ask questions about how the CSU activities are being integrated during this phase. This will help to align project plans and dictate how final execution will be conducted.

Phase 6 / CSU Phase:

Finally, either realize your goal or fall victim to poor planning. The goal, of course, is a successfully executed startup!

In each phase of a project, we must plan with the end in mind. By considering CSU in each phase, one can pinpoint potential obstacles for the project team so that they can be addressed by the right people, in the right place, at the right time. Surprise issues are minimized and commissioning and startup is less stressful for all involved.

Some key takeaways:

  • Upfront planning is required for optimal downstream project execution.

  • Planning must be viewed as a front-end investment with a corresponding downstream payback.

  • Planning is an activity that requires the integration of knowledge, skills, and talent from all project participants.

Does your team need help to realize their goals of a successful project? Do you have questions about how to plan and execute a successful project startup? Reach out to the experts at Hargrove by contacting us at

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