Real-time assurance is here. Is your capital project organization ready?
Real-time assurance is the next step for leading capital project organizations. It will drive unparalleled efficiency across the entire project lifecycle, sharpen your competitive edge, mitigate risk and save money. Your teams will be more collaborative, your stakeholders will be more engaged, and high-level visibility for owners and sponsors will be second-to-none.
Here’s how it works.
First, a definition. Real-time assurance is the practice of continuously monitoring the progress and risks in a capital project, coupled with the continuous benchmarking of that progress against project milestones and comparable projects as well as the continuous expert review of key project deliverables.
This type of continuous monitoring and expert review has only become possible in recent years with the development of modern technologies that leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning. On a practical level, these new technologies support the creation of purpose-built computer programs that that allow teams to capture work as it takes place.
Real-time assurance: an example
Currently, an employee completing a task might send an email to his boss, with a comprehensive report attached. The boss then opens her spreadsheet and marks the task complete, and shares the news (and perhaps the report) with others, again via email. The report must then be filed, and perhaps even printed on paper to be distributed or stored. Later, during the assurance process, all of this information must be collected and forwarded to assurance teams for review.
In an organization practicing real-time assurance, the employee would complete his task by opening the company’s capital project management platform and locating the task that has been assigned to him, much like you might open your email program and find an email that has been sent to you. He would open that task, build his report, update the task file with any relevant comments, and mark it complete. Everyone with the appropriate permissions will immediately be able to see that the task is complete, access the report, read the comments, and provide feedback. Critically, the completion of the task and the quality of the work will move the bar on all relevant timelines and quality progress charts that have been set up in the software, providing real-time assurance.
In purpose-built software the entire process is customizable, from the timelines and milestones to permissions and accessibility, and beyond.
It is much like the Project Definition Rating Index, or PDRI, which most organizations use in the front-end planning process to measure and benchmark scope definition, leading to more precise cost estimates and better risk assessment. The critical difference with real-time assurance is that it functions continuously, and throughout the entire project lifecycle. This level of project visibility is unrivaled and will have powerful implications for risk management, decision-making, and competitiveness.
Real-time assurance: key considerations
Real-time assurance also obviates the need for vintage assurance processes, which are far more labor-intensive, exponentially more expensive, and significantly less effective. With real-time assurance, you’ll know well in advance that your team is failing to meet critical milestones, and you’ll be able to address problems long before the final run-up to key funding gates.
Ideally, companies looking to implement real-time assurance processes will adopt purpose-built technology that does this by design. If this isn’t an immediate option, here are some key technology considerations to help shift your company paradigms and get your organization ready for the real-time assurance revolution.
1. Establish strong lines of communication between your capital project assurance department and your in-house IT department. Get the key players in the same room and ask: “How can we move toward real-time assurance?” Talk about solutions.
2. Take a critical look at your knowledge and technology architectures. The only way to achieve real-time assurance is to collect and consolidate your team’s work in real-time. Do you have the capacity to do this in-house? Do your current technology solutions support modern knowledge management practices? Can you apply machine learning to the data you collect? At the very least, do you have the capacity for expert-driven searchability functions across your files?
3. Practice with the PDRI. Divide the spreadsheet into sub-components — cheat sheets, if you will — and communicate these to the project teams on a regular basis. Say: “This is what the PDRI is asking for, this is the optimum rating, you should be here at this point.” Have the in-house assurance group conduct early check-ins and provide analog updates similar to those that would be generated by real-time assurance technology. This will help to encourage a paradigm shift: Your team will start to think about assurance as a continuous practice that’s helping them — not auditing them.
4. Break the connection between assurance and funding once and for all. The capital projects industry universally defines stage gates in terms of funding mechanisms. Why do we only engage our assurance teams in the months or weeks before the project hits a major funding gate? This is an unsupportable paradigm. It makes far more sense for assurance to take place continually, and for assurance teams to be actively working alongside project teams to support and facilitate success.
5. Start from a prototype to sell the concept. Oscar Monagas, Senior Engineering Management Specialist at ConocoPhillips, shares his perspective: “Big organizations are hesitant to adapt new work process unless they are enforced by upper management. Thus, it is necessary to start with a campaign to promote the goals and benefits of this real-time assurance process.” Your project and assurance teams will be easily sold on the paradigm shift if you roll it out correctly, that is through rapid prototyping and gathering the buy-in of the project teams.
Ultimately, the project team members will be relieved to see the end of last-minute assurance reviews that highlight gaps just weeks before a major gate. The assurance teams will be newly positioned to collect powerful data that can help them build a knowledge base and support the creation of more meaningful benchmarks.
Together, they’ll drive unrivaled efficiency across the entire organization.