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How to optimize your next STO project with the right onboarding process

Turnaround projects are an immense cost factor for companies, so professional STO management is required to keep up with pre-defined timing and budget. A comprehensive onboarding process often makes a decisive contribution to the success of the project but is often neglected. Discover the most important aspects that you should consider for an effective onboarding of your next turnaround.


Every production employee, fitter, engineer, contractor and manager in the asset-intensive industry knows the situation: TAR projects can cause challenging, sometimes even chaotic conditions on site. The reasons include a complex network of internal and external employees, different providers, departments, responsibilities and tasks as well as tight schedule. To be successful under these conditions, highly efficient management is essential. Most companies are aware of this - and have long since internalized onboarding as a useful method
for preparing and implementing turnarounds, shutdowns or revisions.

"If the project team pulls together, is motivated and up-to-date at all times, the likelihood of adhering to timing and budget increases enormously."

Although effective onboarding of all project participants has a decisive influence on the overall success of a TAR project, it is still a chore in many companies to this day. Instead of informing, activating and motivating the project team, those involved often only receive the essentials. In addition, project goals are roughly framed and individual tasks distributed - but often more abstractly, at short notice and without connecting the dots with other areas. The result is everyone works for themselves, tasks are processed several times or stay put, and project steps are forgotten or skipped. Above all, however, employees often see their work as a necessary evil rather than as a helpful contribution to the project success.

This is exactly where - with the staff - every good, complete onboarding concept comes into play. It should be thought through and implemented in the long term. This includes considering all management areas. Specifically it means that time management, resource management, quality management, risk management, cost management, communication management, and procurement management must be coordinated. Above all, each concept should take into account the people who will (should) implement the project in the end and should actively involve them in the processes and measures. The key word in this context is: team alignment. If the project team pulls together, is motivated and up-to-date at all times, the likelihood of adhering to timing and budget increases enormously.

But what exactly does the term team alignment mean? And what specific content does it include in terms of project planning? We have summarized the three most important fields of action and the associated measures, which a coherent onboarding concept should include as part of successful TAR management:

1) Team Chemistry:

Onboarding often leads to misjudgments that the creation of a harmonious team structure is a one-time affair that can be checked off with employee training before the project starts. However, turnarounds and shutdowns are often divided into different phases in which the staff changes (several times) or is composed differently. Like the project itself, cohesion and exchange between those involved are a fluid process. In addition, each newly assembled team needs time to find a common thread. In his phase model, psychologist Bruce Tuckman divides this finding process into five parts: forming (entry / contact phase), storming (conflict phase), norming (agreement / regulation phase), performing (performance phase) and adjourning (dissolution phase).


In many cases these phases are often carried out in just one workshop or a few hours - not enough time to build common ground, or a strong team. A coherent concept therefore creates sufficient time and measures for team chemistry. In concrete terms, this can mean, having several workshops before the actual start of the turnaround, in which the employees work out predefined project goals together, discuss the distribution of roles and the processes - possibly controversially - by contributing their own ideas and experiences. Finally, Tuckmann’s model shows every good team also has different opinions and thus phases of controversy before it starts. In addition, the events should not be limited to the preparatory phase. New situations also arise during implementation, for example due to unplanned events or personnel changes. That is why it is important to actively support team chemistry during the turnaround and to promote it through training measures.

2) Timing and Dates:

The rationale with regard to a good onboarding concept follows a similar principle to that of team chemistry: only with regular updates does the project team stay up to date and know the milestones in time. However, the reality is often different. Immediately before the start of the turnaround, the project management announces a - usually binding and therefore inflexible - schedule. However, the schedule is not designed for personnel changes or unforeseen deviations - so the project team always runs after a (new) lag.

Therefore schedules should not be set once, but regularly and checked for their feasibility. Employees should be actively involved. After all, they are the ones who implement the turnaround and can therefore report firsthand. The plans should also be announced as soon as possible. If the onboarding starts weeks or months earlier, the staff lack the timings at the start of the project - especially since there is a high probability that changes have occurred in the meantime.

3) Interaction Instead of Communication:

In this area of ​​action, too, it is important to align the STO strategy and thus the onboarding concept more closely with the project team. Of course, it is nothing new that communication is a central part of good STO management. Only, here too it happens in many companies that communication is mostly top-down. In the associated workshops and / or training sessions, there is often the right agenda for this form of communication: relevant topics such as safety, organization, scope of work or the nature of the system are presented. The content is already fixed in advance. In terms of employee motivation, however, such an approach is not very efficient.

To solve this problem, interactive workshop content is an option. Topics could include effective work preparation, effective meeting structures in the course of the project, or leadership and communication culture. Providing communication formats that are engaging allows those involved to bring in and discuss suggestions, and describe experiences from other TAR projects. In addition, based on the best practices presented, they can work out which measures are suitable for their own project and which are unsuitable. If necessary, exchange and knowledge transfer can be deepened in group exercises. Incidentally, such an onboarding concept not only promotes interaction and keeps motivation high, but also ensures transparency, since the project team helps to shape content instead of receiving it “from above” and without further context or further information.