INTERVIEW: Interface Management for Capital Projects Oil & Gas IQ with Yann Camprasse
In this interview with Yann Camprasse the FPSO Interfaces Co-ordinator at Total we look at the role of interface management and how the challenging economic climate is impacting the work of interface managers
Oil and Gas IQ: What are the main interface management challenges in the oil and gas industry?
I think the main challenge of the function is to demonstrate the immediate benefits it brings to the stakeholders. Up until not so long ago, the management of interfaces was generally left in the hands of the engineering function. Then along with the increasing size and complexity of the projects came the need for a dedicated role. But customers still tend to see interfaces as a source of claims, and contractors still tend to under-resource the function.
Interface management has not yet become an integral part of the industry’s culture, and its benefits are not being made obvious compared to more direct profit-generating activities. That’s why opportunities to share experiences and good practices can assist in increasing the profile and enforcing the credibility of the role.
OGIQ: Are there different challenges to take into account in the offshore and onshore environments?
YC: In my experience, at equivalent safety standards, logistics are far more pressing (and onerous) in an offshore project execution context than they can be onshore. Depending on how remote the work site is, when you have been riding a surfer boat with your colleagues for the past 4 hours, you don’t want to be the one who forgot his spanner at home. What I mean is that everything you do offshore takes longer, and every mistake is harder to straighten out. Overall, productivity could be divided by up to 4 times or more. And the coordination of co-activities and simultaneous operations, with regard to safety in particular, requires a more sensitive approach.
But I would tend to think that an interface manager is naturally equipped to address those challenges.
OGIQ: How have times of economic hardship affected what you do as an interface manager because of what we are now seeing in the oil and gas industry?
YC: Well from my perspective, it never really changed: everyone wants to be on time and on budget. It is just more crucial now, especially in the growing market for fast-track FPSO conversions. But essentially, the interface issues have always been the same: schedule considerations may lead contractor A to want to go ahead and freeze his design on the basis of incomplete or immature interface information from contractor B. Or, Contractor C may want to proceed with fabrication without waiting for that overdue design input from contractor D. Or, at some point into the execution, budget constraints may lead Contractors to understaff and/or demobilize various project functions too early, further leading to increased risks of mistakes at every level.
In all those cases, the project execution is at risk and the customer generally exposed to change order. And I spend more time than usual drafting counter-claims. Now in order to avoid such situations whenever an interface issue or misalignment is likely to occur, I spend a lot of time working upstream, promoting informal discussions before everyone's position gets stiffened by the attention of the top management.
But considering that a large part of what makes a successful interface management relies upon stakeholders goodwill, it is true that in times of economic hardship, goodwill is not a given.
OGIQ: If you could condense it into a few points, what would you say to anybody who wants to ensure the best possible relationship with their contractors?
YC: One of my colleagues used a quite self-explanatory expression to describe the approach contractors sometimes adopt with a difficult customer. He called that "mushroom policy", referring to how mushrooms are grown: kept in the dark, fed with dung.
As a customer, you don’t want to be the mushroom.
The best way to achieve this is to make yourself useful to your contractor. Be involved, be reactive, be supportive. Reach out to the people who actually do the job, make them sit together and promote informal discussion towards resolution. Soon, you will be in the inner circle, able to detect shortcomings that are not necessarily found in the monthly reports, and able to anticipate on corrective actions. It demands a lot of availability, but it’s a fair price to pay to stay ahead of the Game.
OGIQ: Tell us about the eRoom.
YC: In broad terms, eRoom is an internet-accessible database, designed to facilitate exchanges between interfacing Contractors. Its database structure makes it extremely useful for data mining and project feedback. It has been the standard support to interface management for several years at Total E&P.
I would like to take the opportunity here to say that eRoom, or any such tools designed to facilitate interface workflows, shall not be given more importance than they have. I started working as an interface manager almost 9 years ago, and back then, email followed by physical correspondence were the rule. I would build my own dashboards and update my KPI’s on a simple excel file, and everyone was happy. Now with all those modern tools, we are able to break down every interface into elementary task sheets, develop all sorts of performance indicators, send automatic notifications and retrace the history of every topic. But let’s be careful of the bureaucratic pit, and make sure these tools work for us rather than the other way around.
And remember that, eRoom or not, a badly framed question will always generate a badly framed answer.
OGIQ: Do you think that interface management has a role in helping companies win in this downturn?
YC: I do. In fact, I am convinced that the approach, the techniques and the tools employed in interface management can greatly benefit companies, in that they all contribute to the anticipation and mitigation of risks. I mean there is a reason why the interface and risk management functions are often grouped under the same responsibility. So it may not yield direct profit for customers and contractors, but downturn or not, interface management definitely has an essential role in minimizing risks of mistakes, rework, slippage and extra cost.
OGIQ: Four out of five oil and gas megaprojects fail. How can interface management address those stats given that more and more of those grey hairs are going to be leaving the industry in the very near future?
YC: Well I’m sure that there are reasons for megaprojects to underperform (and possibly fail),which may be related to coaching/mentoring not being given due consideration, and knowledge not beingpassed on by these grey hairs. But in my opinion two of the most blatant reasons that set a project on the failure path are:lack of realism and poor decision making. And while it is true that these qualities come with experience, I don’t think they are the exclusive property of senior professionals.
In fact, I think that the interface management function can efficiently act as a reality check and a facilitator for sound decision making at every level. After all, interface management, as a discipline, shares its roots with risk management, change management and stakeholder management.
The multilateral approach promoted by interface management makes problem solving exercises easier, with the assurance to sit the right people around the table. The tools employed by interface management constitute a formidable quantitative support to experience feedback.
But again, it is important for the discipline to rise as part of the industry stakeholders’ culture, in order to impregnate all the relevant functions of any complex project.