How Active Interface Management Can Save Your Mega-Project?

How Active Interface Management Can Reduce Project Risk, and Save Your Oil & Gas Mega-Project?

Project Interface Management (IM) is part of the Integration Management, but undoubtedly is one of the key component of it; I would say it is like lubricant in your car engine. In my experience if it is done right, it can help you avoid cost and schedule overrun through better alignment on scope, roles/responsibility, communication and healthier integrated schedule. So really hard to ignore this one.

Regardless of how the project team is structured, mega-projects have a lot of interfaces to deal with. For example a multidisciplinery project team in a typical SAGD project in Canada can have several stakeholders including facility engineering, subsurface team, operations and maintenance (O&M), regulatory affairs, procurement and supply chain, commercial affairs, HSE, sustainability, legal, mid-stream & marketing, R&D and technology, and finance & economics. If we add external stakeholders such as government bodies (AER, ABSA, …), NGOs, local communities, (and the list goes on and on) one can realize that managing the interfaces can be as complicated as executing the project. No surprise to see that most of the mega-projects have a dedicated Interface Manager.

On the other hand, we all have tendency to complete the tasks in isolation (was it news to you?!); why, because we are professional and experienced engineers; and we believe that we can do it faster and better when not being interrupted. We may have to do few assumptions here and there,…. and that’s it, here is where the problem starts. Actually those assumptions may not be very correct. Even capturing, analyzing and reporting those assumptions (assuming all are correct) can be a challenge with tens of thousands tasks in a mega-project.

The project leader should be thinking month and years ahead of the project. Only this way s/he would be able to identify misalignment and interface issues, formulate mitigation plans and steer away from risks. Lack of interface management has been noted in PMBOK and many surveys (see: Project Health Check).

Where to look for interface issues?

You can notice, search for and capture project interface issues in:

  1. governing documents (project charter, business case, project assignment, scope definition)
  2. an IM log from previous phase,
  3. decision gate and project competency package
  4. integrated schedule reviews,
  5. weekly meetings and steering committee sessions,
  6. performance review sessions,
  7. risk review sessions,
  8. change request and register
  9. teambuilding, industry forums
  10. interface management review sessions


How to manage the interfaces?

Simple! Develop a track log. Have the top level interfaces with function level RACI. The top level IM discussions will focus on understanding and definition of the interfaces, stakeholders, risks, boundaries, inter-relations and decision tree analysis. Then you need to set up sessions with those respective functions to detail out the task-level RACI for each top-level interface and assign tasks to individuals, set what needs to be done by when, etc. I carry a copy of the IM register with me in all meetings. I found it very handy to refer to it and make notes when sitting in risk register reviews and integrated schedule discussions.

Can a software applications help, sure yes. A simple XL file is a minimum but you can consider enterprise solutions that register and monitor several inter-related tasks in one platform. I suppose major operators might have an in-house platform already in place to use (Statoil does one which is integrated into the project change management, risk, and PMS). The importance of all team members being comfortable with the platform (and the process) cannot be emphasized more. I looked up and found few software houses specialized in data management in project environment; Coreworx in particular focuses on oil and gas projects.

Who is responsible for project interface management?

The accountability of the task lives with project leader, however it worthwhile to assign the role of interface management to a person within the PM team to coordinate. Often this role is not a full time role but can be added to other responsibilities of a hand in project control group. Nevertheless, participation of the project leader in interface management sessions is a must.

How to emphasize on interface management?

The project leader should be the IM agent. S/he should attend  to any of the above 10 areas with interface management in mind. Make sure that your team understand the criticality of IM and is educated on the process and tools that you use in your organization. Good level of awareness can only be built through a clear and continuous communication. Even the luckiest project teams have fair bit of turnaround, so the strategy should be to develop a culture that promotes IM.

What is your experience with project interface management? How do you manage it in your project?
More to read:
Project Health Check
Project Integration Management

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  1. Interesting subject, most of the time I find that the problem within major capital projects are interfacing, however, since the project managers are either engineer or scientist, they often assume that this matter is not really a big deal, until all their activities are being held up due to ‘human factor’.