August 2018, Vol. 245, No. 8

PPSA 2018 Pigging Update

Pipeline Digs Get Assist From PMO

By Richie Ngo, Supervisor, GTS, Walnut Creek, Calif.

The Digs Project Management Office (PMO) is often referred to as the “Big PMO” because of its sheer volume of work and potential impact on the pipeline assets and its stakeholders.

Take MAOP validation, as an example. Performing direct assessments to verify a pipeline’s MAOP is not new, but as federal regulations become more stringent, the volume of digs will increase significantly, and operators need to keep up with the pace.

Over the past six years, I’ve worked on over 1000 digs – small excavations, for the sole purpose of performing direct assessments and material validation. Due to the small scope of an individual dig project, it is very fast-paced, usually lasting one to three weeks in construction.

Why Dig?

Per ASME B31.8S, direct assessments are performed to investigate and mitigate time dependent, resident and time independent threats, and human error. Examples include external corrosion, internal corrosion, and stress corrosion cracking direct assessments, in-line inspection direct examinations, casing mitigation, material verification, MAOP validation and weld verification.

Although small in scope, digs can drive major impacts to pipeline assets. A dig starts off as purely investigative, but it may result in a repair method as simple as recoating the pipeline, or as invasive as requiring an outage to replace the affected pipeline section. Therefore, digs need to be planned carefully to minimize impacts to the pipeline’s continued safe operation and service continuity.

With the increased demand for direct assessments, a systemic approach is necessary to perform large volumes of digs without losing sight of the detailed analyses required. This is where a PMO can be very beneficial.

In traditional project management, we work in sequence: initiate, plan, execute, monitor and control, close. When one process is complete, only then can the next one begin. Here requirements are fixed, only cost and time vary.

A PMO, on the other hand, uses a parallel mode of management that allows companies to manage not by a central line of control, but by groups or functional teams. The scope of Digs is much smaller in comparison to a strength test, ILI or replacement.

Accordingly, many digs projects on the same pipeline asset are forced to react to the waves of the bigger projects and can result in massive rescheduling if not planned effectively. The PMO allows us to be proactive and determine when to properly execute the work not just by providing more visibility, but by creating an environment of teamwork and ownership.

Imagine the decisions you can make when you have the breadth of knowledge represented by all subject matter experts in one room. Functional teams have the authority to make on the spot decisions and solve issues to avoid wasting time and effort. Being closely involved in the process, the combined functional knowledge within the PMO helps it tackle most of the challenges that generally hinder progress.

Unless there is a need to make extreme decisions, team members rarely need to escalate matters to their manager. Thus, decisions are made and implemented quickly. In a typical Digs PMO meeting, we cover over 50 digs in just one hour! That’s over 1-minute per dig!

Express lanes at the supermarket are a simple and effective way to alleviate congested lines – the fewer items to buy, the quicker the line moves. When planning to execute a large volume of digs at one time, it can become increasingly challenging to prioritize digs, but the challenge can be alleviated utilizing a similar idea to an express lane.

The top six priority factors that impact schedule are: location, permit lead time, planned outages, resourcing, funding and compliance deadlines. The priority of these factors will be based on their impact to other digs within the PMO and projects outside the PMO affecting the same assets and resources. Let’s look at how these priorities change over time:

Quarter 1: You’re planning the work before any digs are executed, so try to bundle them geographically. Perhaps it rains a lot this time of year, let’s work on digs expected to have little to no groundwater first, in locations less susceptible to wet conditions, such as pavement, or are known to have less permeable soils.

Quarter 2: The weather is clearing and you’re receiving more digs systemwide, you can now bundle longer lead permits together so they are ready to execute prior to their compliance deadlines.

Quarter 3: You’re receiving most of the digs needed to execute this year and you have a full understanding of their impact. Impacts from planned outages from other work streams should be the focus. Plan around them, be attentive toward the digs that require outages and plan those strategically. If those digs require  immediate temporary pressure reduction, we can incorporate those outages into the system with minor impact to other outages that have been planned for months.

Quarter 4: You’re now on the last stretch of digs that need to be executed. Look closely at all our assigned execution resources such as pipeline engineers, construction, inspection, and direct assessment teams. Can we allocate the work so that it is normalized throughout the teams at an aggregated level? You don’t want to overload one construction crew when another crew is available and looking for work. In the last quarter, we need to look at this frequently.

Depending on the time of year, the factors that drive the work will change in priority. In summary, we place an emphasis first on planning work by location and permit lead time. This emphasis changes toward outages, resources, and funding approaching the end of the year. Of course, meeting compliance deadlines is always highest in priority.

I can recall a handful of digs that we’ve executed from initiation to close in as little as one to two days! Although not sustainable, we made it happen because we needed to make it happen.

Digs PMO Challenges

Hopefully you can see the benefits of having a PMO, but it’s not perfect. Here are some challenges from my own personal experiences. Some we resolved one year but came back the next. Others may have been due to a change in leadership or program direction, and others we just learned to suck it up and deal with. Perhaps you will recognize similar challenges, analyze the root cause and determine a way to mitigate them back at home.

Digs PMO ≠ Other PMO; although convenient to take existing processes and procedures from other successful PMO’s and apply them to the Digs PMO, not all PMO’s are created equal. This goes back to the PMO mandate. Why was it created in the first place? More likely than not, the mandate will not align with other PMO’s as it is subject to interpretation by leadership. Take earned value management as an example. Using earned value management can be a great way to measure project performance and progress, but if it takes one to two weeks to compute earned value, you may already be done with the digs project! It’s like completing a project and then afterwards you create the project budget!

Generating digs with appropriate lead time: Digs may not be generated with enough time and/or information prior to the desired deadline to execute the work. This type of operation (where Digs are continuously urgent and important) is not sustainable and may infringe on the success of other projects affecting the same assets and resources.

Timely cut-outs generated from digs: Digs are purely investigative, but sometimes, you come across digs that expose serious issues, and a decision was made to cut out and replace that section of pipe. When should you cut it out? How does it impact the system? What about funding and permitting? 

Without proper planning on the front end, execution suffers on the back end. Is it worth the time, effort, and money to creating contingency projects ahead of time? Maybe not at the beginning of the year (see table above), but as we discussed earlier, contingency plans may be necessary in the third or fourth quarter if you’re trying to prevent or minimize customer impacts in the winter season.

Unnecessary standby resources: The last thing you want is onsite resources waiting for a decision. Having one crew move from one dig to the next minimizes standby costs. To achieve this requires proper construction management so crews can move effectively to the next dig without waiting.

By ensuring this, we can save in upwards of 75% of mobilization and standby costs. What if one dig is needed and the next closest dig is 100 miles away? Should we wait until there are more digs close by? What if this dig has an earlier compliance date than the rest? Food for thought.


The Digs PMO has proved to be a valuable tool for pipeline operators because it (a) consolidates all phases of the integrity verification process, (b) increases visibility and communications between affected work streams, and (c) minimizes redundancies with projects inside and outside the PMO.

A PMO isn’t just about setting up a framework that allows for efficient and effective project management. It’s also about creating a company culture that is transparent from the top-down and bottom-up. By understanding the overall organizational priority and having visibility into each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we’re able to foster an environment of openness, teamwork, and collaboration that leads to a whole lot more successful projects at the end of the day. P&GJ

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