Reframing the Project Management Mindset through PPM

Unlock new perspectives on project management with Sara Passone’s presentation at the PPI Symposium. Delve into the transformative journey of reframing project management as project production. Explore insights on managing uncertainty, embracing complexity, and enhancing predictability.

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Sara Passone’s presentation delves into a paradigm shift in project management, emphasizing project production principles. With 17 years of experience, Passone unveils the challenges faced in conventional approaches, highlighting three truths: overlooking system dynamics, simplifying views, and relying on traditional metrics. The analysis of a greenfield FSC project vividly illustrates execution variability’s impact on schedule reliability and production rates.

Passone advocates for “batching” as a key to predictability, emphasizing the necessity of breaking down tasks for better manageability. She underscores the importance of engaging the front line, restructuring conversations around productivity, and redefining system boundaries. Passone challenges the industry’s fixation on resource-loaded schedules, urging consideration of broader capacity and variability aspects.

By weaving her journey through projects and embracing project production principles, Passone concludes with a call for agility and a stronger connection with the front line. Her presentation provides a compelling argument for integrating project production into the project management toolkit, shedding biases, and fostering a more nuanced understanding of project dynamics.


[00:00:00] Sara Passone: So, thank you. Thank you, Gary. I wanted to start with one of the rule of thumb that you were taught in one of my vice presidents in D. P. and Carter Tolley. You know, if you are an altruistic, always have in your team a pessimistic and vice versa. That’s a great rule of thumb. You need to take a look at your schedule.

[00:00:23] Sara Passone: So Roberto and I have been talking like for the past couple of months about you know, you should present this related idea. So this is about really reframing your, your way of thinking project management in terms of project production and my journey, my personal journey through it. And I will tell you more about my journey probably during the panel.

[00:00:54] Sara Passone: So, let me tell you a little bit more, more about myself, despite, yeah, I already done a great job. So, yeah, I have now 17 years in my job project. I joined actually, out of my Ph. D. at the Booth Doc at MIT. They come, BP came and say, I need to figure out uncertainty. And they flagged me, because of my study in stochastic modeling, they flagged me immediately as a web engineer.

[00:01:28] Sara Passone: And then after six months, I said, I don’t think this is really, actually, you need to manage, you know, certainty, I think I better fit in projects. So I started my journey in projects and, of course, in concept development. I get kind of sucked into decision quality, which I love, and it’s a way for me to speak in a way that people understand that decision quality is more palatable than stochastic modernity to people.

[00:01:57] Sara Passone: And then, of course, I’ve been told that my background was too theoretical still. So they say, you need experience. Going on a construction yacht for a few months and I stayed there and I’m still, I’m still there. So, so I proud myself to kind of understand a little bit of this young quality, risk management, I’ve done my modeling, modeling day, not on the runway, but I’ve done tons of programming, performance management.

[00:02:30] Sara Passone: And still, I wanted to put, still, still a victim of the unexpected. So now, I’m not, I do believe in randomness and in unexpected, in unexpected twin limit. So, the question is, is the outcome truly unexpected and unpredictable? Or, so what can we do about it? And so, so if you are here, you know the answer to this question and is, is more the same enough and it’s not. So what can we, what can we do before, pro nests, over these 17 years of wonderful experience? I have my war stories, not as many as Gary for sure. But I have come to a realization of three simple truths.

[00:03:36] Sara Passone: One is that as we move away from the front line, my favorite place is offshore and construction yarn, we fail to envision all the parts of the system and the dynamics of it. Despite the fact that as we progress in our career, we become project engineer, the linear manager, project manager, executive, whatever, we get willpower.

[00:03:59] Sara Passone: It’s incredible. No. The second simple truth I came out with to terms with is we come up with simplistic view because we are forced by our stakeholder and our executive. And and then that time into a reality itself. It’s incredible. The message has to be simple for the vice president of the project, so we need to have wise lights, three bullets, just say.

[00:04:31] Sara Passone: And it’s worth it, perhaps, to start with words that embrace complexity. I’m gonna go off script. One thing that I really like is to start in product design. Architecture and, you know furniture and things like that. I’m, I’m Italian, so I like this app. And there is a famous professor in design used to work at MIT, John Meadow, and he came with the law of simplicity.

[00:05:01] Sara Passone: And he said, if you are packaging a product, simplify the complexity, hide your complexity, but at the third stage, embrace your complexity. Is that funny reason and I think that we all forget that we, we forget this. No, and the trend, the realization has come up with is our currency. Then the ultimate results is why is the root in having a schedule, a contract of multiple contracts and performant packet to gazillion of things.

[00:05:43] Sara Passone: We, we track it with slice and dice. And now we power BI and it’s crazy. So, but then we believe that all these things are gonna provide us unru and so we have confidence. It, this is a circular truth to that we are into this where, where wind this medical out. So these are the three things I come to it.

[00:06:05] Sara Passone: So I’m, I’m ya, but wise we casting and I’m not, I’m my age. I’m my age. So, I start messing around. When the project production, I wanted to tell the story at the part of, but I’ll tell the story right now. So, I was complaining to my admin, who is a technical manager at Chevron, about the project lacks science, and it’s always these, you know, like needing like headed up, looking at tea leaves, and he said, you know, you should give, Project production a go.

[00:06:49] Sara Passone: And so my husband was right, once, because I have a right to have a part, I thought, and so I, I thought immediately, and that’s how it happens, that I did this this mini project with Gary and Roberto, and Jay, about his new build, it was this greenfield, FSC, and bring the link to an existing facility.

[00:07:13] Sara Passone: It was amazing for me, The classification of the project is not complex for VBP processes. When you look at the amount of money, but when you look at, we had to, we had we physically contracted three major contracts. Well, we had the production, key production center all over. We have one in Brighton, in Mexico, we were doing engineering in Houston, and then Chennai, and then we had Trinidad offshore, and then we had a piece of engineering in Trinidad, and then we went building this module in Florence, that, you know, going building a compressor, but they don’t know how to build modules.

[00:07:55] Sara Passone: So, and then of course we had COVID. We, every single project in the last five years had covid and changed things. So this is what I discovered by using PPN. We we’re in the middle of, we were finishing construction in Mexico, and we decided to, I, I said to my executive, I dunno, they were busy reinventing the company.

[00:08:22] Sara Passone: So they said yes. And I said, can we just look at the offshore schedule for, and move it to PPM. And now, this is what we found through that exercise. We found a great amount of execution variability. And, how do you see it? They show it to me. So, you see this. task duration, variability in task duration, in type of task, and different type of resources coming up and down, and then different resources, one minute you need more pointers, and then another minute you need figures that doesn’t make any sense.

[00:09:03] Sara Passone: So you can, your system cannot respond to this variability. But then the other thing that was evident to this analysis is that the higher execution variability drive, shock your utility rates. And the second is, is, I try to solve, we already talked about it, the already responses in the call, in the call, is, you are not going to finish all the tasks you plan to finish, that is, your schedule is not reliable.

[00:09:34] Sara Passone: But what people don’t understand about the page of the schedule is that your uncertainty, and this is where I wear my stochastic modeling hat here, is that it is not dynamic. So years had to be even worse than you actually are calculating and expecting. So the other finding for me was a long task duration.

[00:09:58] Sara Passone: So there were huge, long tasks for months in the schedule that had to go at this being completed. You cannot manage a task so long for months. So for me, the other realization was batshit. The right size of patching, for me, is the first sign of predictability. It means you have your hands around what you are going to do.

[00:10:23] Sara Passone: You understand it. The other thing is, means that your schedule was not reviewed by the people who are actually doing the work. Because what I really like is I end up wearing the, the, I love spending time offshore and spending time because they look at you and say, Honey, this is how it’s going to work.

[00:10:42] Sara Passone: And they tap you in your face.

[00:10:47] Sara Passone: I’ll dance to that, my guys. So, so the, the, as I said, Backsheet is the first sign of predictability. Do you understand what’s going on day in, day out? The third realization for me is the high amount of tasks that are worth it. I was joking really with, putting this presentation together with the help of Roberta.

[00:11:12] Sara Passone: I said, I think we should make it more big and we should put it in the pursuit of productivity. Because these what’s your productivity? I’ve been in conversation now, I’ve worked in turnarounds, and they look at me and say, what’s your productivity? And I said, and they give me a number. This is the productivity of a car for Mexico.

[00:11:36] Sara Passone: And I said, have you looked at your data? You cannot even manage the schedule, but they give me the number of productivity. And the one way to reflect that in the schedule is another sort of reprocessing. So we are we are not looking at the nature and velocity of your system. Okay, if you have a child that, that, it’s like saying that your child is 5 weeks old, my, my daughter’s 6 and a half, and you said, oh, by now she should read this book, and now she cannot do it, so what am I, am I going to buy these books because according to the schedule she should be able to read those, no, that’s not how it works.

[00:12:19] Sara Passone: So, so the classical productivity is 4 speeds of the hands. What he should tell is, as a delivery manager, as a programmer, this is the natural speed of my system. What can I do to improve it? We have to, and the people on the front line know exactly what is the speed. So now if we want to listen to them, that’s another story.

[00:12:44] Sara Passone: So. What’s next for God? Okay. So yes, now I’m doing turnarounds. I I want us to do something else and people say, Hey, you go to turnarounds. Yes. So, so I have a client. I did a course last year. I’m getting more and more familiar with PPR. I wish I could do more modeling. But I’m applying the principle.

[00:13:15] Sara Passone: And one is the principle is the true velocity of my system, existing system. What is your system? Which base is durable? The other one is the batching. The release every release of word. I applied this for WordPack planning. We back checked in a way that we knew that that work has to be done.

[00:13:37] Sara Passone: So he’s moved the clock, messing around with that, move it to the planning space, you can move it, you can, you can. And it was a very difficult conversation with the contractor. The contractor said, what if you got a change idea? I said, I’m not gonna, either has to be done. So I had to get sign up from the vice president of operation in order to get that work release for the contractor to know that that work wouldn’t get that.

[00:14:04] Sara Passone: So for them, also for the contractor people, is like am I using my resources not in the right, in the right way, you know, in an efficient way. And then reframing the conversation around risk. I’m sure all of you who are working on project have Huge risk right this time. Now with Power BI, you have all the colors, see the rainbow.

[00:14:27] Sara Passone: Waste cut. We did the effort risk. But the question is, why are we talking about risk? We should talk about production roadblocks. What, what is my production roadblocks? I want to do this work. And, and that is a difficult decision. Redrawing the system boundaries. That’s another thing to get it put very, when you were describing the story of Kazakhstan, you didn’t understand your system boundaries.

[00:14:55] Sara Passone: You didn’t understand, so I said, when we talk about tar from now on, people say, Okay, you have your boat diagram, when you gonna start, when you gonna finish? And I said, Whoa, whoa, whoa, I have a month before that and two months before that. What are we gonna do offshore? When are you gonna leave with the space offshore?

[00:15:13] Sara Passone: What are the current conditions? Is your, you need me, I’ve been in conversation about switch system of the plan, of the, of the, of the platform. If a platform is capable to have 200 additional people, so what is your plan condition? When are you going to maintain the crane that I need to use for 40 days every single hour of the day?

[00:15:37] Sara Passone: So these are the boundary of the system. Restraining, as I said, the conversation around productivity. I think one of the, I don’t know why we don’t learn from, we, from safety, one of the golden rule of safety is envision how the work is going to happen. I think it’s a IUGP said what the rule is envision how work is going to happen.

[00:16:07] Sara Passone: And that should be the golden rule of project management. And vision, how your work is going to happen. So, productivity, I still have to talk about productivity, because that is the language that people talk about. But now, I have a different way of talking about productivity. I said, okay, you want to talk about, you want to engage with me and talk about productivity.

[00:16:28] Sara Passone: Let’s talk about the productivity on the intermediate deck, on the upper deck, on the northwest corner, at the beginning of the window, at the end of the window. So let’s have a different way of talking about productivity. We have the data. Let’s moderate, let’s look about, look at it. So that’s what I’m doing basically.

[00:16:48] Sara Passone: So trying to achieve conversation. So since I wanted to, these are my three points, so. We all be told to be more agile. Okay, so in an agile flat organization, we have to have a strong connection with the frontline. They know exactly what’s going on. We should, the frontline should be at the center of your production system.

[00:17:19] Sara Passone: I think we speak more to the executive than to the frontline these days. We, Project Management does not only allow to listen to the front line, but to bring it actually be at the front stage and manipulate the work with the front line inputs. So, Project Management, and I think that’s the other realization, Project Management tools.

[00:17:44] Sara Passone: We, we, we, we are built like people and therefore are going to be biased. So, to me, they have to be handled with extra care. And that’s why having this interplay with project production and and the classical project management tool for cost and schedule had to really tease out that bias. And the other thing is that I know Roberto did an excellent job to talk about, you know, that we need to schedule and project production, the interplay with it, but this is my very simple definition.

[00:18:28] Sara Passone: Is that one difference for me between Roger production, a production system, and the production control in in the schedule is the work here. So, I, I’m sure you have heard so many times we talk about a resource loaded, schedule. Some of the people are the only leaders that we talk about. We need more people.

[00:18:56] Sara Passone: We need more people. We need more writers. And they are also the scapegoat. I don’t have enough people. Okay. So, in the production system, people are complementary to other teams. We are not allowing ourselves to think about the other neighbors, no? So, the capacity that we talk about, the variability. So, we don’t do that.

[00:19:19] Sara Passone: We just talk about people. So, that’s basically my, you know, two sides to contribute to this debate. Thank you guys.

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Sara Passone


Sara Passone


Sara Passone is Turnaround Manager for BP Americas. Before that, she was a Delivery Manager at BP responsible for the delivery of engineering, construction and Hook Up and Commissioning of Cassia C platform in Trinidad and Tobago.  and completion of Brownfield work on Cassia Hub. Over the past 15+ years with BP, Sara has worked in capital project delivery and led multi-disciplinary project lifecycle execution from FEED up to STARTUP by developing and implementing operating strategies, optimizing business processes, and leveraging technology solutions in Gulf of Mexico, North Sea, Trinidad & Tobago.

She is a Post Doctorate Fellow in Chemical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and she received her PhD in Chemical Engineering from Loughborough University in the UK.