Learn your lessons to improve shutdown process

Conduct a post-mortem after every major scheduled and unscheduled event to avoid repeating the same organizational and fundamental mistakes.


Many organizations spend millions on shutdowns and not a penny on learning what there is to learn and preserving it for future shutdown teams. Remember what Winston Churchill said, (although not in reference to shutdowns): "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it."

We must preserve lessons learned or we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. The fastest way to develop your organizational muscle in shutdowns is to conduct a post-mortem after every major scheduled and unscheduled event. You'll learn:

  • What worked well and should be repeated
  • Where problems occurred, which can be used to initiate problem-solving sessions if the problems were not solved during the event
  • Who needs more training before the next shutdown
  • What to include in the checklist to make future shutdowns more successful.

The shutdown post-mortem is a series of document reviews and meetings with the endpoint being an easily readable report that shows what you learned (both positive and negative, and always constructive) and how to avoid problems.


Most post-mortem activities should wait for 30 to 90 days. People just completing a shutdown are usually tired, frequently upset, and need some time to get back to their lives. A second reason to wait is to try to allow some emotional space to develop. Post-mortems go more smoothly if no one feels defensive or blamed for mistakes.

There are some post-mortem activities that can and should be done during the last few days of the actual shutdown. Specifically, you wantto interview key contractor personnel before they leave the site and go to their next job. Ask them to name three things that worked for them and three things that did not work for them from this shutdown. If possible, ask someone not directly involved in the shutdown to conduct these interviews. This person will be more likely to be a neutral party who can effectively capture the lessons learned without being defensive.

Preparing for the post-mortem

In preparation for post-mortem meetings and report-writing, team members should refresh their memory of what actually happened by reviewing the shutdown documents:

  • Any scope documents, mission statements and estimated budgets generated by top management
  • The list of jobs (It's important to keep this because it will save you time when you do another shutdown in the same area.)
  • Minutes and personal notes from shutdown meetings
  • Closed work orders with materials used, labor expended, other resources used, and closing comments (These should be entered into CMMS and become part of the unit histories.)
  • Contract documents, contractor lists and any completed evaluations. (This usually includes reviewing the main contracts and interviewing someone from Purchasing.) 
  • Schedules, schedule compliance reports and minutes from compliance meetings. These can be put into a book form to make them easy to review.

Get the project team together and discuss the shutdown

Have an initial meeting and generally discuss what worked and what did not work. Keep meeting minutes from this whole process. Assign one person or small teams to write what were the lessons learned with references to the minutes from the meetings and to source documents where that is appropriate. Remember to be alert for both negative lessons (things to avoid or remember) and positive lessons (things to make sure you repeat).

Here are ideas for areas to discuss in the subsequent post-mortem meetings. Subgroups could be assigned related topics.

  • What worked and what didn't work?
  • Did the shutdown policies impact the shutdown for better or worse?
  • Did the shutdown meet Operations' needs and expectations? Be specific.
  • Considering the activities of engineering, what happened?
  • Considering the activities of planning and scheduling, what happened?
  • How much did the shutdown change between the time it started and when it finished?
  • How close were the budget and the baseline schedule?
  • What worked and did not work about communications?
  • What worked and did not work about the shutdown team allocation of responsibilities?
  • What techniques or technologies helped this shutdown?Which ones should we drop in the future?
    • Work scope
    • Cost performance
    • Shifts and work schedule
    • Work completed compared to work scheduled
    • Scheduling compliance
    • Safety and environmental compliance
    • Contractor performance
    • Vendor performance

Writing the report

Start with a one-page summary that includes an executive summary of the shutdown, KPIs measuring shutdown performance, and a summary of recommendations for future shutdowns. Suggestions for chapters in a shutdown report include:

  • Environmental, safety and health issues including accidents, near misses, issues with permits, PPE
  • Issues with start-up and shutdown
  • Completeness, accuracy and usefulness of engineering
  • Effectiveness of job planning and scheduling. Work assignments, including a review of assignments, resource issues and execution issues.
  • Schedule compliance including schedule breaks, logistics issues, and mobile equipment issues.
    • Was everything done that was supposed to be completed?
    • Added work
    • Emergent work (how could we have known in advance?)
  • Support from outside
    • Contractor performance, quality, cooperation
    • Vendor performance, quality and accuracy, cooperation
  • Site logistics, stores, rentals, delays and excessive waiting time
  • Any specific things that caused delays
  • Any specific things that really worked well and should be repeated.

To get better at shutdowns the results of your post-mortem have to be accessible to future shutdown team members. Make sure your lessons-learned document is updated, supplemented,read and discussed before every shutdown. In fact, the first activity of every shutdown should be to review this document.

Joel Levitt is the director of international projects with Life Cycle Engineering (LCE). Levitt can be reached at jlevitt@LCE.com.

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Safer human-robot collaboration; 2017 Maintenance Survey; Digital Training; Converting your lighting system
IIoT grows up; Six ways to lower IIoT costs; Six mobile safety strategies; 2017 Salary Survey
2016 Top Plant; 2016 Best Practices on manufacturing progress, efficiency, safety
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Future of oil and gas projects; Reservoir models; The importance of SCADA to oil and gas
Big Data and bigger solutions; Tablet technologies; SCADA developments
Automation modernization; Predictive analytics enable open connectivity; System integration success; Automation turns home brewer into brew house
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; Paralleling switchgear generator systems
Natural gas for tomorrow's fleets; Colleges and universities moving to CHP; Power and steam and frozen foods

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Motion control advances and solutions can help with machine control, automated control on assembly lines, integration of robotics and automation, and machine safety.
Compressed air plays a vital role in most manufacturing plants, and availability of compressed air is crucial to a wide variety of operations.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
click me