A Conversation with Petra Polster on Advanced Work Packaging
Advanced Work Packaging (AWP) and WorkFace Planning (WFP) are popular topics in Western Canada. The purpose of this conversation with Petra Polster, currently a senior WorkFace Planning specialist with AECOM, is to discuss major AWP themes and how AWP enhances capital project performance.
Petra is a construction leader with a strong background in field planning, WorkFace Planning, and Advanced Work Packaging. Petra is based in Calgary and has over 10 years experience in the implementation of work packaging techniques in Western Canadian construction projects. Petra, currently a WorkFace Planning Committee member at the Construction Owners Association of Alberta (COAA), is presently working as a Sr. WorkFace Planning Specialist at AECOM. Throughout her journey as a work packaging specialist in construction capital projects, Petra has contributed to designing work packaging solutions that have been implemented on a variety of project sizes.
Olfa Hamdi: As a former member of CII/COAA Research Team RT272, myself among others have noticed that the construction community in Western Canada has shown more willingness than other geographical areas to embrace and implement Advanced Work Packaging despite the fact that we lacked data on AWP benefits at the time. The question is: is that still the case today? And if so, what in your opinion could be done more to vigorously promote the concept of AWP?
Petra Polster: Indeed, the construction community in Western Canada is engaged in developing and using WorkFace Planning and Advanced Work Packaging. We have seen a boom in oil sands capital projects in the years 2004 and 2005 and we construct and operate our projects in challenging environmental conditions. This created a unique environment that supported new initiatives and new approaches to advance more capital effectiveness. Let’s say, we have just been less conservative in rethinking our project management approaches!
OH: I have been conducting and documenting research on the benefits of AWP and I have noticed they can range from field productivity improvement to engineering rework reduction. We, at the AWP community, are actually leaning toward considering AWP an industry “game changer”. From your experience, what do you think are the top 2 benefits of AWP and why?
PP: We have definitely seen the benefits of AWP in executing large construction projects. In addition to field benefits, there are benefits that are perceived at the definition and engineering levels. I would say that the top benefit is the achievement of cost effectiveness. Indeed, AWP affects all support functions, which affects indirect costs and organizational operational effectiveness.
In other words, when I apply AWP, I know that the supply chain management process in terms of procuring material and subcontractors is going to be more effective and in alignment with the packages that drive my construction sequence. I also know that I can assure progressive quality turnover throughout the execution phase of the project.
Additionally, AWP allows you to set up your project with the systems and tools that come with it in a fashion that provides accurate and timely reporting. With the increasing need to very granular levels of reporting, AWP allows the matching of a project’s Work Breakdown Structure and Cost Breakdown Structure with the organizational structure. This implies the proper tracking of the involvement of all direct and indirect support functions and goes to the heart of accountability, which I think is key to the success of AWP implementation.
OH: These benefits are relevant to every construction contractor and every owner. Through the constant feedback we collect at workpackaging.org, we find that smaller projects, contractor and owners tend to be much slower at adopting Advanced Work Packaging. What do you think are possible causes of that?
PP: On small projects, it is very common to have the construction contractor not involved in the front-end phase. AWP is all about effectively managing the flow of information from the front-end phase throughout the entire project lifecycle and across all stakeholders. Additionally, in smaller projects, owner companies may not be exposed to AWP, its benefits and how it can be used to their advantage, as are larger companies. More importantly, properly implementing AWP requires resources to allow construction to work with engineering at very early stages. This may increase the indirect costs of the project and small projects may not afford that. AWP early implementation may also challenge the fast tracking mentality that generally applies to small projects.
For sure, the intensity of all this depends on the degree of coordination between the owner and the engineering side.
OH: From an Engineering Procurement Construction (EPC) contractor perspective, what advice would you give to owners who are willing to embrace AWP?
PP: A key element to the success of AWP implementation is accountability to all involved stakeholders. To ensure accountability, one needs in my opinion top down commitment to Advanced Work Packaging with the leadership buy-in into the process. In my opinion, if there are enough gaps in the chain of command during project execution, AWP implementation breaks and loses its purpose.
Additionally, it is important that communication is effective and intensive between the owner and the contractors. AWP is all about aligning stakeholders to a common delivery sequence from early in the definition phase to the project delivery day. When communication is properly planned and enforced, which is also relevant to accountability around AWP implementation, project execution is easier.
OH: How about the contracting strategy? Does the choice of the contracting strategy impact the success of AWP implementation?
PP: In terms of contracting strategy, I think that, independently of the strategy chosen, the common element to successful AWP implementation is making sure that all stakeholders from engineering to construction and procurement are aligned in the execution of the project – not functioning in silos. This goes beyond establishing an integrated project team because what matters most to AWP implementation is making sure that the project resources are managed at a central location. AWP has to be an integrated effort especially during the early phases. The contracting part should clarify that and reinforce accountability in terms of Roles & Responsibilities in all facets of the projects. As I previously mentioned, the contracting strategy being driven by AWP is an example of when the leadership is strongly committed to AWP and to achieving its benefits.
OH: Finally, being two women and experts in this field, do you have any special advice for women project managers and women AWP professionals to help them into their journey of leading the way into this “game changer”, particularly in a male dominated industry?
PP: My advice, especially to young graduates, would be to initially gain project experience in the field (on a construction site). Being exposed to daily challenges during execution in a field environment allows you to consider, identify and mitigate these during front/end planning activities. Technical knowledge as well as a strong understanding of how different project functions need to interface to support work crews in a safe and efficient execution is key to a successful AWP implementation plan.
OH: Thanks, Petra. It has been a pleasure reconnecting with you after this long.