A clearly defined scope of work defines project boundaries, helps control cost and schedule and helps leaders identify and manage risk.

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The vibrant Northwest economy runs on successful project management. Disciplined adherence to rigorous project management practices allow companies from Boeing to Microsoft, and those in the public sector, to deliver on their promises to customers and communities.

Stakeholder engagement

Good project management starts with stakeholder engagement. Frequent and clear communication with both internal and external stakeholders is critical to success. Any individual, group or entity that can impact, be impacted by, or be perceived to be impacted by a project’s activity is a stakeholder. Successful project managers will identify all potential stakeholders and engage with those stakeholders to ensure project development aligns as closely as possible with stakeholder expectations.

Risk management

Management of risk first requires the situational awareness to recognize risk in all its forms, and to take timely action. Projects fail to achieve their full value when risk is not recognized, or when leaders fail to mobilize the right players at the right time. In addition to risk avoidance, mitigation and contingency strategies, managing risk also includes capitalizing on emergent opportunities.

Scope of work

Scope management is the basis of all project activities. A clearly defined scope of work defines project boundaries, helps control cost and schedule and helps leaders identify and manage risk throughout the life of a project. Poorly defined scope typically leads to schedule delays, rework, cost overruns, general stakeholder misalignment and wavering commitments from members of the project team. Successful project leaders finalize the scope of work only after engaging key stakeholders; clearly defining scope exclusions, constraints and assumptions; documenting initial risks; and gaining peer or third-party endorsement on the major deliverables.

The finalized scope is then compared – and controlled – throughout the life of a project against the starting baseline, and all changes are evaluated for new or changing risk. Once a project is in-flight, it’s just as critical to frequently validate that the desired business case value is truly being obtained.

As a Washington public power agency, Energy Northwest continuously exercises such rigor and control, especially during its nuclear refueling of Columbia Generating Station. Located near Richland, Washington, Columbia is one of 99 nuclear reactors that provide 20 percent of America’s electricity, and 60 percent of the nation’s carbon-free electricity. Like all resources, it requires fuel – in this case uranium metal – and so it must power down every two years to swap used fuel for new fuel.

Planning the scope of work for each of these refuelings begins years in advance. It involves the exchange of rods holding the used and new fuel pellets – each pellet the size of a pencil eraser – and maintenance that can only be accomplished while the reactor is offline. All together these activities represent EN’s largest project management effort.

Timing is critical for the region. Refuelings at Columbia are always scheduled for the spring, when rivers typically run high and northwest hydroelectric power is abundant. Columbia’s nearly 1,000 employees also work alongside more than 1,500 temporary nuclear, craft and trade workers on 24/7 shifts to further mitigate the loss of more than 1,200 megawatts per hour from the electric grid. The resulting local and statewide economic stimulus – increased business for hotels, restaurants and community services, industrial manufacturing and industry vendors – during refuelings support nuclear power’s average $475 million economic contribution to Washington state.

Planning for and championing such projects – projects that support strategic cost-reduction goals and initiatives – is characteristic of every successful business; it’s the key to delivering long-term customer value, and it’s done through professional project management.

Adherence to strategic plans

Another key element of project management involves keeping an eye on the big picture. This involves tracking how individual projects and components of projects fit into a company’s overall strategic plan.

At Energy Northwest, significant power plant upgrades or refurbishments planned during refuelings must align with the organization’s strategic initiatives. Proposals pass through a series of cross-functional committees that look for tangible value, and only after passing through this validation gauntlet are they handed to a project management group for execution. The project management group assesses proposals against globally recognized fundamentals and standards created by the Project Management Institute. While all PMI knowledge areas are implemented in one fashion or another on every project, some areas are more pivotal than others. Scope, risk and stakeholders form the trifecta of power project management. Scope and risk management are crucial for delivering on time and on budget, especially in a time-critical refueling; and frequent stakeholder engagement offers the best means to continually assess project value – and priorities – throughout all stages of the process.

Measuring success

As a project progresses, it’s important to measure success. Setting up benchmarks, effectively communicating about progress and any shortfalls, holding all stakeholders accountable, and adjusting plans to adapt to any changing conditions keeps projects moving efficiently forward. This efficiency affects worker and stakeholder satisfaction as well as the bottom line.

Project management excellence during Columbia Generating Station’s 22nd refueling, for instance, resulted in a record-breaking operational run of power between 2013 and 2015 – 683 days from the completion of one refueling to the start of the next refueling. During this time Columbia pushed 18 billion kilowatt hours of carbon-free power to the Northwest power grid, with a performance record that bested all other electrical generators in the state, including Grand Coulee Dam. In 2016 the station achieved its fourth record-setting generation year in five years, pushing 9.6 billion kilowatt hours to regional power customers. Such performance underscores an eight-year declining cost of power that helps keep our utility bills among the lowest in the nation.

Project management is fundamental to an organization’s success. Companies today are challenged by volatile markets, ever-changing technology and increased competition. By recognizing and benefiting from the value of demonstrated project management fundamentals, strategic goals can be actively pursued while also providing necessary internal controls to guarantee organizational success.

Energy Northwest owns and operates diverse electricity-generating resources, including hydro, solar and wind projects, and the Columbia Generating Station nuclear power facility. These projects provide enough clean, cost-effective, reliable energy to power more than a million homes each year.