Decommissioning Planning ‘Top 10’ Lessons Learned and Recommendations: Part 3 – Management

J.G. Nelson, Senior Management Consultant, The Delphi Groupe, Inc.
M. Kruzic, Decommissioning Project Manager, PMP, Advisian
M. Morton, Senior Principal Consultant – Decommissioning, Polestar Technical Services
R. Wilkinson, Senior Program Manager, P.E., The Delphi Groupe, Inc.


This 3-part series is exploring a list of the ‘Top 10’ lessons learned including the typical situation, importance, impacts(s), different perspectives (contractor, owner, and stakeholder), along with recommendations for each of the ‘Top 10’ lessons learned in decommissioning planning. After all, planning is the earliest and best opportunity to positively influence scope definition, safety, cost, and schedule.

To catch up, be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

8.   Change Management

Decommissioning projects are very dynamic and prone to change, regardless of the extensive planning that may have occurred; therefore, we need to be prepared for this likely situation so that the project can react quickly, cost-effectively, and safely. The project scope may need to be changed based on any number of factors during project execution. Some common reasons encountered during decommissioning include unexpected characterization results, unanticipated site conditions and hazards, weather impacts, budget cuts or increases, and stakeholder input.

When (not if) changes to a project occur, a responsive change management process needs to be followed in order to maintain project cost and schedule and obtain the necessary approvals to proceed. Proper change management can also help identify scope creep, capture additional costs, avoid cost overruns, document causes of delays and communicate the changes and recovery plans to the project stakeholders.

Recommendations to effectively manage change include:

  • Implement and follow a documented and rigorous change management program
  • Ensure change management process is well understood by PM, customer, and any subcontractors
  • Develop and document detailed basis of estimates and assumptions during the planning phase to justify changes to the baseline budget/schedule
  • Utilize variance notifications as an early warning system for potential scope changes or impacts
  • Track changes against the baseline to improve future estimating/scheduling
  • Utilize contracts manager outside of the technical team to control subcontractor scope/changes when justified by project size
  • Do not proceed with scope changes until written approval is received

Charles Darwin stated ‘It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.’ Change is inevitable and constant, but if we are ready for it and manage it, we will be successful.

9.   Use of Rigor, Experience, and Management Tools

Site staff at plants and facilities are typically highly trained in maintenance and operations and while capable and motivated, the majority haven’t planned or executed deactivation and decommissioning activities. Operations facility/plant knowledge is critical; however, decommissioning is a very different activity with many different risks and therefore should not be perceived as a simple ‘de-construction’ project. The appropriate level of rigor and experience, combined with the use of decommissioning planning tools, can help site staff and contractors properly plan a decommissioning project.

Just as varying levels of rigor and processes are applied in power plants and manufacturing facilities to ensure safety and quality, different levels of rigor and processes are required to plan, manage and execute decommissioning projects. D&D projects are best executed by applying a graded approach, or fit-for-purpose, level of rigor. In the nuclear industry many activities are driven by regulatory processes and thus drive the need for higher levels of detail and control; however, where work is planned and executed that does not affect life or plant safety often simpler (not necessarily less safe) methods can be utilized to plan and execute the work. The decommissioning rigor and process should actually begin during operations and maintenance with good recordkeeping (documentation and drawings), materials inventories, capturing environmental liabilities and other operational factors. The level of rigor and processes performed during operations will greatly influence the efficiency and costs of future decommissioning.

The use of customizable decommissioning/restoration tools (i.e. software programs with built-in libraries and processes for decommissioning planning and project management, can help the project team address a number of critical areas that are often not given enough attention. Some of the planning tools that have been developed specifically for decommissioning projects can be used for developing project endpoints, performing project planning and estimating, managing waste and materials, risk assessment and management at multiple levels, managing and tracking regulatory and stakeholder commitments, and prioritization, sequencing, and optimization of project activities and large legacy liability portfolios.

Tools can be customized to meet the needs of individual projects. They can incorporate best management and industry best practices to improve performance. They can help project personnel step through the deactivation and decommissioning process in a chronological fashion, using a proven approach, without being an expert. Lessons learned from previous decommissioning projects can be incorporated in these tools. Tools can assist capable resources to understand the rigor that is required for deactivation and decommissioning, increase their confidence that they are doing things right, and can support them in being a model decommissioning project.

Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher, stated ‘Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools, he is nothing, with tools, he is all.’ The tools are out there, it is just a matter of using them to receive their benefits.

10.   Managing and Meeting Your Commitments

There’s an old adage that goes like this – ‘There was an important job that had to be done and Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry with that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done. To this date, these four people are still arguing why Nobody did the job.’

Most projects are plagued with managing commitments, actions, permits and approvals at some point to some level, and the plague (and consequences) only become worse as the project size increases. You may find yourself asking the following questions:

  • Why are people not reporting to you?
  • Are you tired are being caught off-guard or unaware?
  • Is accountability and responsibility suffering?
  • Have you missed a commitment to your customers or stakeholders?
  • Does your project team not realize when things are becoming critical?
  • Does your project, facility, program, organization, business, or functional area have these same symptoms?

Meeting and managing our commitments are one of the keys to project success. Not actively or aggressively managing or meeting you commitments or obtaining approvals for your permits can cause a number of common impacts:

  • Minor to major project schedule delays
  • Increased costs from delays or fines
  • Tarnished corporate and professional reputations
  • Reduced stakeholder confidence
  • Frustration amongst team members
  • Internal blaming of project team members (i.e. finger pointing)
  • Embarrassment of not knowing or being caught off-guard
  • Loss of confidence in project delivery with the stakeholders

Inherent human characteristics and behaviours as well as diverse personality types, high expectations, and the effects of multi-tasking, can overload individual resources causing them to forget or prioritize other high priority tasks. Sometimes we can shirk responsibility and accountability. However at the same time most professionals seek to achieve, meet deadlines, be successful and avoid adverse attention. Lack of communication also plagues the meeting of commitments. Therefore communication, visibility, clear accountability, reporting, and prioritization are the antidote to counter these adverse behaviours. With numerous interfaces, impacts and interdependencies, rigorous tracking is required to help enforce or reinforce these behaviours and processes can be an effective mechanism for effective and efficient commitments management.

When a commitments management tool is used, action management increases, commitments can be tracked real-time to avoid missing them, review processes can be managed, commitments and actions can be linked to regulatory requirements and drivers, and completion of commitments can be easily and quickly demonstrated.

Implementing a commitments management program/tool provides a number of direct and secondary benefits including:

  • Improved project team communication
  • Consolidated lists of commitments
  • Reinforced individual accountability and responsibility
  • Transparency so team member can help other team members
  • Increased stakeholder confidence that commitments are being worked
  • Improved quality assurance and auditability
  • Increase confidence and assurance of on-time, on-budget project delivery

So what is the moral to the old adage? Commitments and actions need one person who ultimately is responsible and accountable for each – nobody is responsible when everybody in responsible. Commitments and actions need to be prioritized and tracked – somebody needs to know what is important and its progress. Visibility is essential, but accountability gets it done – assigning actions to everybody ensures that nobody will do it. The issue is manageable and solvable – after all, anybody could have done it. Somebody needs to do something – that somebody is you. Jason Bartels stated ‘Commitment – it is the little choices everyday that lead to the final results we’re striving for.’ So, take action!


By implementing the identified recommendations that were derived from lessons learned on D&D projects, one can expect the following outcomes/results:

  • Sufficient characterization for HSE controls and waste disposition pathways
  • Comprehensive decommissioning project execution plan with clearly defined and achievable endstate
  • Clear organization with roles, responsibilities, accountabilities, and authorities
  • Fit-for-purpose project-specific processes and documentation
  • Detailed and effective work plans with
  • Accurate estimates for materials and waste inventories
  • Clear waste management plan and strategies
  • Defined risk consequences with effective mitigation strategies in-place
  • Stakeholder buy-in and concurrence
  • Confidence that the project is setup for success and to manage change

Lessons learned are only useful if they are shared and applied, otherwise they will continue to be repeated. When we fail to plan, we plan to fail. Experience is our best teacher. Will we continue to accept more risk, more challenges, or do the necessary planning upfront? We can learn through other’s experiences and avoid repeating their mistakes.

Douglas Adams, and English author, stated ‘Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.’ Stephen Keague, author of The Little Red Handbook of Public Speaking and Presenting, coined the popular phrase ‘Proper planning and preparation prevents poor performance.’ Finally, Winston Churchill stated ‘Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.’ Let us learn from the decommissioning industry experience and heed the advice of Winston Churchill and take the time to plan for success.