This is the third in a series of posts aimed at creating a broad understanding and awareness of ORAT. It is intended to be a prerequisite for more in-depth training that will be available soon from Citiri.
My previous two posts have offered a general overview of Operational Readiness, Activation & Transition (ORAT) as well as a look at the financial justification, both in terms of cost-savings and prevention of value leakage over time. The focus of this piece is to explain more about the actual components of ORAT, its functional areas, and how they fit together to keep project owners truly in control of their projects
It makes sense to start with governance, or what the military might call command and control. Generally speaking, that means establishing outcome targets and KPIs, an organizational structure for authority, responsibility, escalations and decision making, a communications plan, and rules for engagement.
Governance can be broken down into the following components and checkpoints:
- ESC (Executive Steering Committee) – Responsible for setting targets and KPIs. Identifies the ORAT delivery model and leadership. Serves as the final resolution layer. Communicates the importance of the ORAT team’s work to all stakeholders including the project team. Provides air support for the ORAT team throughout the delivery process.
- Issue Resolution Ladder – Set at the ESC-level, the process for escalating issue resolution and sorting out competing priorities.
- Change Management Protocol – Laying out steps that must be followed in order to make changes after design approval.
- Risk Management / Mitigation – Protocol for managing what can go wrong and developing a basis for determining when risks have been mitigated to an acceptable level.
- Communications Protocol – Ensuring that teams collaborate with one another and that external messages are consistent and distributed by the appropriate source.
- Progress Tracking & Reporting – Establishing function-specific cadences and a single source of truth for providing progress reporting and insights throughout the entire project.
The next key ORAT component is the schedule. In practice, this means setting and maintaining alignment of ORAT activities with the construction schedule so the team can make appropriate "in-game" adjustments at the earliest possible point, maintain forward momentum on the project, and ensure critical ORAT activities don’t go undone.
This is the foundational element of ORAT, and it’s important to identify stakeholders early and to develop an effective approach for requirements gathering and keeping them engaged throughout the project lifecycle. One way to do that is by creating coordination or working groups that keep everyone on the same page and prevent or mitigate any surprises that come up during the process.
CONOPS (Concept of Operations)
The CONOPS is developed through a combination of stakeholder input, industry standards, regulatory requirements, and budget. Ideally it should be built into the design criteria and then adjusted as necessary to accommodate unexpected circumstances like COVID. However, the CONOPS must also take into account the technology that will drive the process. Given how rapidly it changes, I recommend establishing a dedicated technology budget for the project lifecycle rather than a single-year line item.
Airports are systems of systems, which creates an extreme level of complexity and need for coordination. That’s why it’s extremely important to identify, define, diagram, test/validate, and document every critical interface. These efforts must be given adequate attention by both the ORAT team and the involved stakeholders.
The working groups or specific stakeholders use the CONOPS as the basis for determining what procedures apply to the project and which need to be modified or created. They will also typically take on responsibility for making the modifications or writing the new procedures. This process should be collaborative and done as early as possible because it forces stakeholders to think through how they will test during trials the ability to function while using SOPs as the standard. It’s important to understand that SOPs are living documents. As the project moves forward, stakeholders inevitably find gaps in operations and adjust the SOPs accordingly. The advantage of this approach is that it yields high-quality SOPs that trials can be built against.
The familiarization (FAM) process introduces stakeholders to the facility and the functions at various stages of the project. For obvious reasons, that means the construction schedule will drive the timing of the FAM process. In my experience, FAM work is best completed in carefully timed stages to provide the ORAT team with more flexibility in making adjustments to account for variations in construction activity.
Typically, there are two distinct types of training. Induction training is primarily focused on making sure end users understand their roles and responsibilities in the context of the new facility and with equipment and procedures involved in their work. Induction training is often conducted by SMEs from the ORAT team or stakeholder organizations.
Operations and maintenance (O&M) training, on the other hand, is focused on providing the appropriate stakeholders such as facilities maintenance and management with technical training. Such training includes the work required to optimally operate and maintain various equipment, systems and facilities over the life of the finished product. Typically, O&M training is the contractual responsibility of the general contractor, but the ORAT team needs to coordinate with stakeholders, and track progress, quality and timing.
Before any training can begin, however, related SOPs should be complete and detailed enough to ensure a baseline training plan can be developed and all components can be properly tested. When the SOP is ready, the next step is to prepare for training and testing.
Integrated Systems Testing
This is another component where ORAT is very effective at knocking down operational silos. As the name implies, integrated systems testing is designed to make sure that critical interfaces as well as systems that work independently also work together. This is essential for developing an accurate picture of systems readiness.
Trials offer the best opportunity to surface and resolve the types of problems that can cause opening day disasters. Thus, they should be well timed around the substantial completion date and allocated enough time prior to opening-day for the ORAT team to properly trial all necessary operational scenarios. Depending on the project, trials should be organized and executed in a prescribed progression:
- Initials - Basic Trials – Identify and correct issues with a single system/equipment/process/scenario
- Second - Advanced Trials – Combinations of basic elements and flows. Also provides opportunities to validate corrected issues from previous basic trials.
- Third - Integrated Trials & Simulations – Involve end-to-end, integrated operational scenarios, and flows as they are intended to function on opening-day. Issues identified here are evaluated for criticality, they are assigned a priority and after actions are determined and assigned. For many airports, the integrated trial/simulation exercise is the go/no-go decision point for opening-day.
Transition to Operations
The transition to operations is the most visible and often the most intense time for the stakeholders and the ORAT team. Physical relocation is always a major challenge, but opening-day puts the entire project in the public spotlight. The transition experience will benefit greatly from a well-executed ORAT program and the significant planning and coordination that it drives. The goal here is a smooth transition into surprise-free, smooth start-up operations with no embarrassing failures.
Despite the enormous focus on opening day, the work isn’t completed from an ORAT perspective. In order to ensure a high-quality handover experience to stakeholders, often there are still key O&M deliverables that must be managed carefully. Even if opening day is an enormous success, it’s likely there are still outstanding issues that need to be remediated – ones that either were deferred because they were not critical to go-live, or new issues that surfaced on or soon after opening-day.
Another great advantage of the ORAT process is that its standardized format makes it much easier to analyze the process from start to finish so that all involved understand how to do it even better next time. That’s why it’s important to collect lessons learned and opportunities through the delivery process and conduct and document a thorough postmortem.
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