Advanced Work Packaging (AWP) has been shown to improve communication, safety and efficiency on industrial construction projects, but it also risks taking the planning out of the plan.

Work plans for complex construction projects must consider time, material and human resource requirements, but those are just the beginning. The real planning comes in when numerous other factors — including safety requirements, work sequencing and site access — are considered. AWP software simplifies some aspects of work planning, but it can’t substitute for real planning by experienced professionals.

Creating a Planning Specialty

Before the term Advanced Work Packaging was coined, construction work packages were written and assembled by the superintendents and field engineers responsible for the execution of the work. Compiling all relevant drawings and information in paper format could be tedious, but once the data was collected the plan could be written with the benefit of construction knowledge and experience.

AWP software makes it easier to pull documents together, coordinate project schedules and visualize the work. However, some of these systems are complicated and require a specialist, or even a team of specialists, to operate them. As a result, our industry runs the risk of creating “AWP planners” as a specialty role.

These planners may or may not have the construction experience to effectively plan the work. Though they can assign work-hours and material quantities, they may not be able to plan work in the correct sequence, account for access restrictions, or address quality and safety issues.

Something very similar happened with Oracle® Primavera software when the complexity of the software created the need for a specialized role. Now there is a distinct separation between “project controls schedulers” and the “doers” who implement the schedule. AWP may create a comparable disconnect.

Getting Carried Away With the Plan

AWP software also makes it easy for planners to get carried away. Because so much data is readily available, they may include far more detail than necessary.

The most effective construction plans include only the information the crew needs, such as the specific safety plan and quality requirements, the relevant drawings and spec requirements, a list of tools, equipment and materials, and a basic schedule. Yet it’s not uncommon for AWP planners to produce a 2-inch binder filled with everything from less relevant reference specs and drawings to general project requirements that aren’t necessarily needed for the specific work at hand.

When a foreman receives this kind of binder, a couple of days are needed just to read through it. With any luck, it will provide what is needed to get the crew working. If not, the foreman may simply disregard all but the major milestones and create a different plan to work from instead.

A better approach is to involve the correct construction experience in the planning process. When the construction professionals collaborate with the software specialist to create a plan that addresses all aspects of the project — without including a lot of unnecessary information — AWP can and does improve workflow efficiency and reduce costs.

Chad Kirby is a vice president and director of energy construction at Burns & McDonnell. He has more than two decades of experience in construction management and supervision, and he provides experience with design-build delivery of complex industrial projects from estimating to commissioning.