Apache scores high on collaboration in the North Sea



In the offshore oil and gas industry, collaboration is critical to project success. Mark Richardson, Apache’s North Sea Projects Group manager has been working closely with the Oil and Gas UK (the voice of the U.K. offshore industry) and government regulators to help North Sea operators embrace collaboration and overcome the challenges posed by today’s dynamic business environment. He’s also played a pivotal role in helping Apache improve project outcomes in the region by adopting a highly unique approach to project management.

Apache was recently awarded the highest score in a collaboration survey conducted by Deloitte in the U.K. In April, Richardson gave a presentation at the University of Aberdeen’s Collaboration in Oil and Gas Conference about how Apache’s Projects Group works cooperatively with vendors, regulators and partners to optimize project execution.

“Apache uses the same tools, techniques and technology as every other operator in the North Sea. We all have mature assets, we share the same supply chain, and we deal with the same partners and regulatory issues, yet our performance in terms of project delivery is better than other operators. Much of this attributable to our collaborative approach to projects, which has enabled us to reap significant rewards for all stakeholders,” Richardson said.

Another key to the North Sea Projects Group’s success has been the adoption of “Mission Command Project Management,” a methodology Richardson learned during his time as a Commando captain in the United Kingdom military. He adapted the concept to fit the project management requirements of the oil and gas business. “Mission Comand focuses on centralized intent with decentralized execution. It’s based on giving subordinates and contractors the freedom to use their expertise and initiative to make decisions and develop the best possible solutions. It stresses the importance of understanding project benefits and what effect is to be achieved rather than specifying the ways by which it must be achieved,” explained Richardson.

The Projects Group has used the Mission Command approach on a number of major projects including Bacchus, Aviat, FNT, Callater, and the Forties Alpha Satelitte Platform (FASP).

The Callater project, which achieved first oil in May 2017, is comprised of two subsea oil producers tied back to the Beryl Alpha platform for processing and export via new subsea and topsides facilities.

The process from discovery to first production on Callater took 23 months – five weeks ahead of a very aggressive field development plan and more than 10 percent under budget. The project was also delivered with a best-in-class safety record.

The key facilities suppliers were engaged immediately after discovery to help formulate the functional specifications and ideas to reduce project costs. A very lean project team provided the vision and strategic intent and boundaries of responsibility while capitalizing on the knowledge, experience and competence of vendor teams. The approach, which reduced project contingencies and removed micromanagement, required leadership at all levels. It also enhanced ownership, proportionately allocated risk and removed unnecessary complexity, bureaucracy and levels of assurance that would have negatively impacted progress.   

“Callater is a clear, repeatable, and transferable example that can be delivered when collaboration is at the core of a project from concept to completion,” said Richardson. “The relationship-oriented model we used allowed trusting competent people to deliver and required leadership on both sides of the contractual divide.”

Moving forward, Richardson firmly believes that in order for oil and gas companies to succeed in today’s rapidly changing environment, they are going to have to change the way that they do business. “Right now, we live in an age of acceleration, where there’s volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity in the world, all of which is amplified by the speed of communications,” he said. “The management thinking and methodologies of the 19th century are no longer relevant in the 21st century, and we have to start thinking and working differently to adapt to this paradigm shift.”

“In the North Sea, Apache is very much leading the way in how we manage projects, which is far removed from the way that most local operators do business,” Richardson added. “We are delivering better, safer and faster projects between 30 and 50 percent less expensive than average, which is attributable to a great team and the unique Mission Command approach we take.”

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