Protecting Yourself from AWP Naysayers – Busting AWP Myths

By Andrew Foy, O3 Solutions Director of AWP & Construction Excellence 

A wise man once said that “It is much easier to be critical than to be correct”, and Disraeli was born long before the advent of social media and everyone having a platform to express an opinion. Sadly, this concept extends all too often to those in the project execution world, especially when they are on the outside, looking in at an exciting process that has been gaining momentum across the world.  

Advanced Work Packaging (AWP) has its doubters, but there has been a very noticeable increase in its popularity and usage on capital projects. This, inevitably, leads to others questioning it and trying to find ways to undermine its track record.  

Are all the people that are using AWP wrong? Has this all been a cunning deception, perpetuated by the Construction Industry Institute (CII) when awarding AWP the Best Practice status in 2015? Do all the success stories from projects that have used it now have to be classified as ‘fake news’?  

The answer, of course is no. And to address some of these concerns, we will today continue O3’s Mythbuster series, by assessing some of the claims being made and where they fall short of fact.  

1. Craft are incapable of effectively planning their own work.  

Nonsense, and frankly one of the most insulting things that I have read on the subject. Craftspeople are skilled trades, who take a great deal of pride in their work. AWP was not created with the intention of treating tradespeople like school children, who need to be spoon-fed because they are incapable of thinking for themselves. Quite the opposite. Craftspeople are routinely and systematically let down on most capital projects by a lack of planning. Project leaders constantly put them in a position where we give them a scope of work to carry out, only to find out half way through that they are missing a vital element, like a drawing or a piece of material. We then react by moving them somewhere else, starting them on a different task, and then get frustrated when they can’t complete that new task either. 
AWP is not about making Installation Work Packages that a fifth-grader could follow. Good IWPs do not need to spell out how to do the work; that is something the foreperson and crew are perfectly capable of covering, and why we consider them skilled labor. AWP is about giving them the best possible chance to be efficient. Give them the drawings, the materials, the equipment, and all the other elements that could stand in their way, then step back and let them get on with it. 
Planners should be viewed as part of the execution team, rather than separate from the craft. The planners should work closely with the craft and Forepersons to make sure that the packages being produced are effective. We cannot afford silos here.  

2. AWP is an attempt to change the way that projects are engineered.  

This is a standard complaint from anyone who hasn’t taken the time to understand how AWP works.  

Yes, engineering typically works in a different order to construction. That is well known and well understood. Some simple examples:  

  • Foundation designs can’t be finalized until the equipment weight is known.  
  • Piling designs can’t be finalized until the equipment and foundation details are known.  
  • Pipe is designed by system, not by area.  

AWP is not an attempt to change that, or to revolutionize the way that engineering does their work. AWP looks to prioritize and sequence the work, to support construction. So let’s say that, in a simple example, construction has determined that it would be most efficient to install the scope of work from east to west. We have various foundations, each with different pieces of equipment on them, from various vendors. The intent of pushing for a Path Of Engineering that follows the Path Of Construction is to prioritize the equipment (and therefore the foundations and piling design) on the east side first. Don’t just let your vendors hand you information in whatever order they want. Move away from the “first in, first out” approach, and make sure that you are focusing engineering effort on the areas that construction needs. 
Likewise, with pipe; we recognize that engineers design by system, not by area. The piping design has to be progressed to a sufficient point to allow isometrics to be issued for construction. But again, what we are asking for is prioritization of the deliverables.  

None of this is perfectly linear. Engineering still needs to do things in a process that makes sense for them. What AWP does is set the priorities for how those deliverables should be received. If Engineering can produce our priority one drawings on time, and also some of the priority two drawings at the same time because they are part of the same system, that’s fantastic. As long as the dates for the first priorities are being met, construction has a meaningful place to start. We are just trying to avoid engineering delivering in a vacuum, with no concept of the impact of their decisions.  

3. A single foundation will require ten work packages. 

This is, sadly, a poor attempt at ‘reductio ad absurdum’. It is also quite simply wrong.  

Firstly, there is nothing requiring an IWP to cover the work of a single foundation. If the foundation is large, then there may only be one per IWP. But if the foundation is small, there may be several foundations in a single package. 
Secondly, it is important to note that AWP pushes for ‘single-discipline’ IWPs, not “by craft”. The discipline in this case would be the foundation, so the various personnel involved in its installation would be considered part of the same discipline. 
You may choose to create a separate IWP for rebar, especially if you have subcontracted that work out. But you could also manage that work using a blended crew under a single Foreperson or Superintendent. 
Surveyors and QC are supporting functions to the work being done, and their involvement is typically managed as a constraint, or as a part of the Inspection & Test Plan (ITP). 

So, ultimately, you could end up with a single IWP for the excavation of several foundations, a single IWP for the forming/pouring/stripping of the foundation, and another IWP for the backfill of several foundations. 
Workface Planning (the field portion of AWP) is about arranging the work in an efficient way to reflect how it will be carried out. Nobody is creating ten IWPs for a single foundation.  

4. AWP and Workface Planning require huge numbers of planners, and the IWPs get ignored.  

Again, something we hear expressed as a concern by companies and individuals who haven’t implemented AWP, or want to use the planners as an excuse not to.  

Modern planning methods, particularly when supported by an appropriate technology stack like O3, allow for IWPs to be created with a very limited number of planners. Graphical work packaging allows for package scoping in minutes, with the associated drawings, materials, estimate, schedule dates and execution tasks to be assembled automatically, along with pre-set constraints. The planner can then focus on removing the constraints, so that the IWP that gets issued to the field can be completed from start to finish without stopping.  

As for the IWPs being ignored, this happens only when the planners are disconnected from the field installation teams, or when the craft leadership has not been sufficiently trained on the merits of AWP. The resolution is simple –  

  • Make sure that the planners are working with the superintendent for that discipline to agree the scope and boundaries for the IWPs. The planners don’t work in isolation, just creating whatever work packages they want, in whatever order they want. The planners work, ultimately, for the Construction Manager, and your org chart should reflect that.  
  • Make IWPs that contain the information that the field crew needs to perform the work, but don’t try to teach them how to install pipe (for example). Create IWPs that are worth reading. Likewise, if you have pages of boilerplate wording in there (like “Remember to wear your PPE”), the crews will inevitably just skip the write-up and go straight to the drawings.  
  • Train your people on what AWP is, why you are using it, and how it can help them.  

5. All we care about is productivity, so if you hit a roadblock, just bounce the crew to another package.  

Constraint management is all about removing the roadblocks so that work can be done from start to finish without stopping. If AWP is done properly, the number of times that crews will come to a screeching halt will greatly diminish. 
If, however, your idea of doing Workface Planning is just taking a stack of drawings, dividing them into small groups and calling them IWPs, you will of course fail. This is usually what we see with contractors who are doing AWP under sufferance, with no intention of making it work.  

Productivity improvement is the outcome, not the method. Properly planned work will lead to greater efficiency, but also have significant other benefits like improved safety, quality, predictability and crew morale. 
How many times does the Root Cause Analysis of a safety incident show that it occurred due to a change in work location or task? All too often. By planning the work and managing your constraints, AWP practitioners have seen significant safety improvements.  

In Conclusion: 

Owners are recognizing the benefits of AWP. More and more contracts are making it a stipulation. Now is the time to get your company involved in this process so that you can work through these myths and perceived roadblocks, before you get forced into making mistakes on a project because you were too entrenched in your thinking to believe that another way existed.  

There is hope. We saw very recently that historically-competing concepts can live together. It was very interesting to see practitioners of AWP and Lean, so often the Montagues and Capulets, find common ground and see value in each other’s ideas.  

Clearly there will continue to be naysayers, and those whose purpose seems to be to find fault in advances that others are making. We prefer to focus on the positives. And AWP is here to stay, so now is a great time to get on board. If you need help navigating the dark waters of misinformation or myth, give me a call.