Hello! My name is Steve Bray, and I am Vice President of Operations for NatureWorks. I appreciate this opportunity to share the success story of our company’s teaming with TritenIAG on major capital projects. The success is due in large part to our working together as an Integrated Project Management Team (IPMT).
First, let me tell you about NatureWorks. We are a world-leading biopolymer innovator and manufacturer using plants to turn greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into a portfolio of polylactic acid (PLA)-based biomaterials called Ingeo™. These Ingeo biomaterials have an average carbon footprint 80 percent smaller than petrochemical-based plastics and enable composting and recycling. Ingeo can be found in many products we use daily, including compostable cups, cutlery, and tea bags as well as diapers, hygiene masks, and filaments for 3D printing.
We needed to blend our team of PLA experts with experts in capital projects. We sought professionals who could combine high level business goals with the practicalities of project execution.
Using a defined engineering work process and a consistent construction execution approach, we have historically met project quality, schedule, and total installed capital cost goals using our own engineering team. However, with growing global customer demand for sustainable materials like Ingeo, NatureWorks is initiating our global expansion plans with the construction of a second manufacturing facility. This second facility will be constructed in Thailand and is anticipated to open at the end of 2024.
Polylactic acid technology expertise is a limited specialty in the plastics industry, and in this growing market we need to protect operational trade secrets. But like many companies our size, we did not have the complete project staff typically associated with large capital projects. We needed to blend our team of PLA experts with experts in capital projects. We sought professionals who could combine high level business goals with the practicalities of project execution.
NatureWorks found the right partner in TritenIAG. We forged a single team to manage capital projects, contractors, and interfaces. Through collaborative effort, we arrived at three interlocking strategies essential to building a successful IPMT: transparent communication, team alignment, and trust.
Our first step in establishing a successful IPMT was to communicate our vision for the project and the drivers behind it. Project success is not only measured in schedule and budget adherence: Many decisions are driven by safety, long-term economics, and more. By clearly defining our success drivers, NatureWorks can leverage the IPMT’s strategic decision-making, knowing that decisions will be made in alignment with our ultimate goals. Valuing and acting on the expertise of those with broader project experience allows us to apply best practices, policies, and standards outside our experience.
An IPMT’s behavior reflects directly on the owner’s reputation...owners must ensure that all team members can speak clearly to their area of expertise for the project and properly represent the owner’s needs and vision.
Structurally, this takes the form of regular executive meetings between key IPMT members and NatureWorks’ executive team. This routine, direct communication at the highest level ensures that project drivers are continually considered and affords the executive team one-on-one access to the IPMT’s experience. It allows expert group discussions about global industry drivers, the positives and negatives of potential project execution options, and feedback on concerns.
We applied this model of transparency and direct communication throughout the entire project organization. For example, our steering team involves executive officer members of NatureWorks, TritenIAG, and the engineering contractor. Monthly steering team meetings inform leaders of each company and provide a forum for action.
Additionally, the program sponsor, the project manager, and the engineering manager regularly meet as a project leadership team. This team focuses on both current activities and critical activities for the next 3-6 months. This forward view removes potential roadblocks resulting from team member fit, resource constraints, or external forces.
Project owners must have a team they can trust to delegate
In addition to fostering transparent communication and team alignment, project owners must have a team they can trust to delegate. Decision-making bottlenecks delay projects and cause confusion; decisions must be made quickly and at the proper levels. With the proper transparency, alignment, and trust in the IPMT’s expertise, owners can leverage the combined strengths of their own organization and other industry specialists.
For example, as our change management team developed the procedure for approvals, we determined that change orders could be delegated based on the expertise of individual team members. Because we trust the project manager’s expertise and understanding of our project drivers, NatureWorks did not expect or require involvement in every change order decision. Conversely, the TritenIAG project manager recognized that some change orders would require NatureWorks’ unique technical expertise. This mutual respect for differing expertise and division of labor allowed the project team to significantly expedite change orders.
Throughout our shared work experience, we’ve discovered that an IPMT’s behavior reflects directly on the owner’s reputation. Engineering contractors, construction contractors, equipment vendors, and other parties don’t recognize the individual companies represented by the IPMT—rather, they think of them all as the owner’s team. Consequently, owners must ensure that all team members can speak clearly to their area of expertise for the project and properly represent the owner’s needs and vision.
Our ability to tap key TritenIAG personnel over numerous projects has established more consistent project execution, shorter learning curves to start new projects, and faster resourcing to fill project needs.
Our collaborative approach really paid off during COVID-19. In March 2020, NatureWorks began a project with a traditional kick-off meeting for all project team members, just as the pandemic was developing in the United States. Based on alignment work previously completed, the team quickly agreed on strategies to maintain both team safety and project schedule. The IPMT and the engineering contractor worked together to identify new technologies and approaches that would support remote project reviews, team meetings, and other unusual or unanticipated challenges posed by the pandemic. As a result, the entire front-end engineering design and cost estimation effort was completed per schedule and within budget without face-to-face team meetings over the 10-month period of required social distancing.
Working with TritenIAG’s IPMT model has yielded successful project results. Our ability to tap key TritenIAG personnel over numerous projects has established more consistent project execution, shorter learning curves to start new projects, and faster resourcing to fill project needs. It also has allowed us to operate more projects simultaneously than we could do on our own. For companies with similar resource limitations but a need for growth through capital project plans, I believe that using an IPMT structure based on TritenIAG’s model would be a valuable component of their project success, as it has been for NatureWorks. I anticipate reading of other owners’ success stories, here. Meanwhile, I’ve enjoyed discussing our journey; and please stay tuned for more on our expansion into Thailand.