Planning Power: Project management best practices built into Oracle solutions help re-energize Bruce Power.
by Tara Swords
In 1960, workers on Douglas Point—located three hours east of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and overlooking Lake Huron—broke ground on Canada’s first nuclear power facility. Eight years passed before the facility began supplying electricity to the citizens of Ontario, a time span that underscores the complexity of building and operating a nuclear facility. But in a young industry that demanded equal amounts of scientific know-how and operational care, managing the complexities of a project the size of Douglas Point was a matter of absolute precision and national pride.
Today, Tiverton, Ontario–based Bruce Power operates eight nuclear reactors on the same lake shore where the Canadian commercial nuclear industry was born. But in contrast to the original Douglas Point reactor—which was built and operated by the Canadian government—the current facility is operated by a privately owned company that is focused on operating efficiently.
Attaining this goal is complicated by the broader contours of the nuclear power industry. Nuclear reactors around the world are reaching a point in their lifecycles where operating companies must either refurbish or retire them. Building a new reactor takes the same time and care today as it did in 1960—and can cost billions of dollars. So the most cost-effective choice is often to perform significant upgrades.
As electricity demand increased and the power plant faced the prospect of expensive reactor upgrades, Bruce Power management needed to attain the same project discipline used in building the facility and make it the cultural core of the company’s ongoing operations. So senior management redesigned their project delivery model and processes, and then engaged Accenture to help deploy Oracle’s Primavera project management solutions. The goal was to enforce established project management best practices as a part of the company’s emphasis on increased operational performance and efficiency.
“In the nuclear industry, we were very good at doing project management and construction when we built these places. But then you lose that expertise when you focus on safe, successful operations of the units,” says Maggie Hutton, manager of Bruce Power’s Center of Excellence, which promotes project management best practice adoption throughout Bruce Power. “Now, we’ve reached a point in the lifecycle where we have to get good at project management and construction again.”
Effective project management is critical to any company, but it’s particularly important when project management mistakes and delays can cost so much money.
“Every minute a nuclear unit is offline is time when it’s not producing revenue,” says Keith Cooke, Accenture project delivery lead on the Bruce Power deployment. “So if you can effectively manage a project to reduce the amount of offline time, that is real revenue to the investors of the company.”
Nuclear power is all about sophisticated science—it does involve splitting atoms, after all—and even regular sustaining capital improvements, such as replacing 10-foot valves and multiton motors, require technical expertise. But nuclear energy companies aren’t necessarily employing the most-sophisticated IT or project management standards. That was true at Bruce Power, where project management often consisted of ad hoc processes that didn’t adhere to best practices and lacked the support of a strong technology backbone.
“It’s not a problem unique to nuclear; we see other industry sectors using this ad hoc set of processes, too,” Hutton says. “It’s often sheer brute force of really strong project managers who are also good at firefighting that has allowed them to get projects in on time, on budget, and in a safe manner.”
The problem became clear when Bruce Power management began work on the Restart program, which involved returning the facility’s 1 and 2 reactors to commercial operation for the first time since the mid-1990s.
“We started to realize that the status quo was no longer effective and that we needed to start with a blank piece of paper to reinvent our project delivery model,” Hutton says. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and not many organizations would ever have the luxury of doing that.”
That blank piece of paper included Oracle’s Primavera P6 software as the technology cornerstone of the new model. The selection of Primavera was a simple decision, Hutton says, because Bruce Power staff was familiar with a previous version of Primavera and knew that other organizations in the energy industry relied on it. And management wasn’t interested in taking any risks with its technology choices.
“It’s about tried-and-true technology to support our processes,” Hutton says. “One of our guides in putting the new IT toolset in place was to go and look at what has already been tried and tested by others who deliver projects effectively in the world.”
I think it might have seemed to people that everything was overly complicated. But you can see when the lightning bolt hits as folks start to actually use the processes and tools, and they realize, ‘Wow, this really does work and it’s not rocket science.’
The choice to use Primavera was only the beginning of the changes to come. The other parts—processes and people—were equally important. And the changes in those areas required quite a bit more work.
Bruce Power project management had been operating on the same set of processes for decades. And while it was clear that things had to change, there was some resistance. Implementing a standards-based approach to project management required a major culture change, and that type of change isn’t always easy to manage. “Some people are quite happy continuing to follow the processes that they’ve always followed and using the tools that they’ve always used,” Hutton says. As a result, the project team had to demonstrate the benefits of the new system to the employees.
To ensure that Bruce Power implemented the right processes, the team developed a high-level system of doing project work based on benchmarking and industry standards from the Project Management Institute and the regulatory bodies that oversee the nuclear industry. Then team members took those ideas to the groups that would eventually use them and walked them through all of the changes they planned to implement. The feedback gathered from those peer group reviews informed a set of preliminary recommendations that the team presented to upper management.
“We tried to take a democratic approach to it and tried to listen to everybody and get everybody’s input,” says Mike Crans, manager of project controls and estimating at Bruce Power.
To help employees adjust to the change, project leaders worked hard to communicate the benefits of the new system and processes. Fortunately, the project had strong support from senior leaders who were vocal about the importance of the new approach to the future of Bruce Power. Rollout included a lot of one-on-one training, which helped people to see the project’s value firsthand.
“I think it might have seemed to people that everything was overly complicated,” Hutton says. “But you can see when the lightning bolt hits as folks start to actually use the processes and tools, and they realize, ‘Wow, this really does work and it’s not rocket science.’”
One of the interesting facts of the Bruce Power deployment is that the deployment itself was a pilot of the new process.
“In the real world, we’re also delivering projects at the same time as we’re implementing this new model, so it’s not like you can tell everyone to just please wait while we put it all in place and then we’ll just flip a switch and everything will work wonderfully,” Hutton says. “At the same time as you’re designing a new process, you’re doing your day-to-day work, and running pilots seemed to be the most effective way of still getting work done while getting the opportunity to work out the kinks.”
After nearly two years of preparation, the system went live in April 2012. The team migrated close to 300 projects from an old version of Primavera to the latest version and built numerous integration touchpoints to other systems, such as financials and work management. The big switch started on a Thursday, and by Monday morning Bruce Power staff was fully functional, using the new toolset.
This whole system is going to allow each planner, estimator, and member of the project team to do their jobs better. If we can move average performance up, that’s better than having a few superstars.
One of the most significant benefits of the new system is the ability to schedule resources. Finding people to work on construction projects in the nuclear industry isn’t as easy as finding people to work on other types of construction projects. Partly because of safety regulations, people who work on nuclear plants have much more specialized skills and knowledge. So when scheduling isn’t carefully managed, projects can come up short on people and suffer delays.
“When a project is not completed on time, that means the manufacturing of electrons is not available for you to use in your house,” Cooke says. “So you start creating a deficit in managing the grid infrastructure, which means other plants and facilities have to work harder because the plant that was scheduled is not available to manufacture electricity.” Now, however, project managers have visibility into all resource schedules.
Now that processes are standardized across the company, staff changes don’t cause project problems. For example, if a planner goes on vacation, another planner can step in and take over the job because both do their jobs the same way. Since the implementation, Bruce Power’s projects are finishing closer to plan than ever before. And notably, the new toolset and processes allow the organization to measure and monitor its performance baseline.
Process standardization also enables project managers to make better decisions. If project B is in jeopardy of delay, they can reallocate resources from project A, which might be less critical to the business.
“This has allowed us to do our long-range planning and make good business decisions now for the future,” Crans says. “Otherwise, we really had blinders on, and we could only see what we were doing at the moment. We couldn’t see ahead and predict our needs.”
Both Crans and Hutton anticipate significant ROI on the new system. “The ROI will not only be in terms of dollars,” Hutton says. “It’s about public perception and boosting stakeholder confidence, too.”
As Crans and his team continue to collect data on the project’s ROI, one result is already clear: It’s raising the bar on employee performance and helping to ensure that everybody can meet a new standard of excellence.
“It’s no good for a company to have only a few people who can do their jobs well while the rest are struggling,” Crans says. “This whole system is going to allow each planner, estimator, and member of the project team to do their jobs better. If we can move average performance up, that’s better than having a few superstars.”
Tara Swords is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.
In a deployment of this magnitude—in a highly regulated, science-based industry and involving millions of dollars of exposure—partnerships matter. After redesigning the company’s project delivery model, management at Bruce Power turned to Accenture and Oracle to assist in the implementation. Bruce Power staff had an established relationship with both companies and trusted the expertise demonstrated onsite.
According to Keith Cooke, Accenture project delivery lead for Bruce Power, there were critical times in the implementation process where collaboration between Oracle and Accenture headed off unforeseen challenges. Based on that experience, Cooke believes that a strong relationship between project stakeholders is critical for success. “This project was a true partnership with Oracle and Bruce Power,” he says. “We were able to leverage the latest technology of Primavera to provide industry-standard IT solutions that improved the project execution for our client.”