Viziya is now part of Prometheus Group

4 Key Reasons Shutdown Turnarounds Fail

Posted under Blog by VIZIYA's STO Team

October 18, 2019

Shutdown turnarounds are certain to fail without proper planning

An infographic showing some of the common reasons why shutdown turnarounds fail.


In the world of maintenance, there is probably nothing more thoroughly planned than shutdown turnarounds. Shutdown turnarounds, commonly referred to as STOs, are often planned months in advance by a dedicated team of professionals. Despite this extensive planning, they often fail to meet their targets.

The numbers are sobering. According to figures in Practical Shutdown and Turnaround Management for Engineers and Managers, published by IDC Technologies, over 90% of the turnarounds studied failed to meet the company’s business and turnaround goals! It seems as if a completely successful shutdown turnaround is very rare indeed.

Looking at more of the study’s findings gives us some clues as to why so few shutdown turnarounds fail to meet all their goals. Almost 90% of the turnarounds studied experienced work scope growth between 10 and 50%. This alone should not throw a properly planned shutdown off the rails. Some expansion of the scope of work is likely unavoidable, as craftspeople inspect machinery and notice unsuspected problems. In fact, we listed it as one of the four key differences between STOs and routine maintenance.

However, the very fact that it can’t be avoided means there must be a backup plan in place for how to deal with the issue. Assuming everything will go as planned may be the single biggest mistake you can make when planning a shutdown turnaround project.

Learn more about VIZIYA WorkAlign STO


It should be noted that the people planning these failed shutdowns may have understood this. It’s also quite possible that they did have a backup plan to deal with the increased work scope. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they did expect this and made appropriate plans. We’re still left with the question of why so many of the studied shutdowns failed.

Another finding from the study may hold the answer. It turns out that out of all the planned shutdown turnarounds that were studied, three out of four of them abandoned their schedules in the first week! Months and months of sustained effort in planning the shutdown, and it all went down the drain in less than a week.

It’s safe to assume that they did not intend to abandon their schedule and that conditions during the shutdown forced them to do so. They may have fallen into one of the four common reasons shutdown turnarounds fail.

  1. Poor Scope Management

The STO project must focus only on work that is truly within the boundaries of the defined strategy or work scope. This is easier said than done. It’s tempting to overload the shutdown team with work that falls outside the shutdown’s remit. Avoiding this is critical.  

For example, say you’re planning a turnaround event for a specific plant area A of your facility, even though plant areas B, C, and D are also in shutdown, only work in plant A should be considered in the shutdown planning. This allows the team to focus on the primary requirements of that shutdown. By introducing work from any other area, there might be a need to prepare the other plants and create additional isolations to make it safe for work. This expands the STO scope and subsequently increases the duration and cost of the project.

The whole idea of an STO is to only do work that cannot be done during normal production. This is part of what we mean by “quality of work.” For example, work that can be done during normal production should be done then. It also shouldn’t be included if it’s in a section of the plant that’s not scheduled for shutdown.

One of the STO manager’s jobs is making sure the overall scope stays within the remit of the shutdown. This decision should be made on a case by case basis. Let’s remember that STOs have an inherently dynamic work scope. You are often going to find more work when you open a piece of equipment. This dynamic work scope is precisely what makes scope management so critical for STOs.

  1. Scope Creep

As we noted earlier, almost all the turnarounds studied experienced work scope growth of at least 10%, with some ranging as high as 50%. Some scope creep is simply inevitable. Since machinery is offline, a shutdown period is a great time to take the covers off for thorough inspections. These inspections will often turn up “extra” work that wasn’t planned for originally and some of it may need to be done during the shutdown. Keeping a tight control on this is essential. If it can be done after the shutdown, then do it after the shutdown.

Scope creep may be the most common reason for STO projects running beyond their planned duration. There are different schools of thought on how to deal with this issue, but a good rule of thumb is simply to be prepared. Making and following contingency plans will ultimately be a cheaper approach than a long delay.

Historical data can be your guide. When the data suggests the likelihood of emergent work that might delay the schedule, you should factor in a contingency which would add about 10% to your planned duration. Remember that this is only a rule of thumb. A careful examination of the data may give you a reason to increase the planned duration by more than this if it seems likely to be necessary.

  1. Poor Communication

Clear and accurate communication with all stakeholders is vital during the planning process and throughout the shutdown execution itself. Poor communication during either phase can create an environment of mistrust, cause delays and cost overruns, and may lead to increased worker injuries.

The need for effective communication goes beyond the STO planning team. Each craftsperson working on the shutdown should be able to provide a status report on their own work if required, including whether they expect to meet their targets.

It is not enough to hand out the work scopes at the beginning of the project. Good communication also includes ensuring accurate information is passed from shift-to-shift throughout the duration of the STO. At minimum, this information should include what was completed, what’s in progress, what work remains to be done, and how the overall project stands in terms of meeting its goals. 

  1. Inadequate Planning

This may be the single biggest cause for STO projects not meeting their goals. Remember that according to the IDC Technologies study we referenced earlier, three out of four shutdown turnarounds went off their planned schedules in the very first week. In most cases, the point of failure can be traced back to inadequate planning. This doesn’t mean they didn’t plan the project; it probably just means they didn’t plan the project thoroughly enough.

They say the devil is in the details, and it’s in the details that STO planning can easily go awry. Replacing a valve as part of the STO seems like a simple procedure, but there are many details that should be in place to ensure it proceeds smoothly.

There needs to be properly resourced work orders. Someone needs to contact the vendor to see if there is a standard procedure for replacing that valve. The parts must be on hand. Depending on the nature of the work, you may need permits or government approvals to go ahead.

Thorough planning for STOs means knowing the answer to all these questions and more, for all the work that must be done. Inadequate planning will cost time and money.

STO personnel are often separated from ordinary functions within the organization. Quite often there is a high turnaround in the shutdown teams. The team planning the next STO may have few or no personnel who took part in the previous shutdown event. As such, there could be significant loss of experience within the team. Inadequate planning can spring from these factors. The last team may have made a mistake in their STO planning. They learned their lesson, but now they’re gone, and nobody remembers anything about it … so the current team makes the exact same mistake!

A successful shutdown turnaround project needs not just planning, but meticulous and detailed scheduling to help ensure that it will meet its key performance indicators.

Register for Scheduling for Success Webinar


To gain full access to all our Resources, just register by following the link below.


See something missing? We are always happy to listen.

Request a Demo

Resource Area Registration

Provide Your Feedback