Little time, a great deal of work, adherence to schedules and cost certainty – and all of this in complex systems. These are the determining factors for a major project on a repair and conversion yard. A well-functioning team and the project manager are a guarantee for success.
Ships are similarly complex systems as modern commercial aircraft. “No,” says Björn Sellschopp decisively, “They are much more complex.” Aircraft are also built in relatively small numbers, but each ship is a single development from a multitude of individually developed systems. The management consultant knows both sides. After all, he has advised renowned international ship builders as well as the European aviation group Airbus. For him, retrofitting and remodeling projects are among the most complex tasks: “This requires a considerable amount of coordination.”
Extending ships, incorporating new drive systems, for example, dual-fuel engines, installing scrubbers or ballast water treatment systems – these are classic major projects for renovation and retrofit specialists like GDD. They do not only consist of technical tasks: “A large number of supplier companies and project partners is involved in such projects, and the costs for planning and logistics are correspondingly high,” says Sellschopp. This requires experienced and competent coordinators.
Well prepared for every challenge
Björn Sommer is one of these sought-after specialists. As the project leader of the German Dry Docks Group (GDD), he faces a number of fundamental challenges with every new large project: “We intervene in an existing system. We employ a variety of trades in close timing and in a confined space. And we only have a limited time frame that we want and need to observe.” After a brief pause, he adds: “And even with the best preparation you can always experience a surprise in the running process.”
Summer has been a project manager for the GDD team for three and a half years. Previously, he worked on the other side of the desk. From his experience as fleet manager, inspector and authorized representative of a shipping company, he knows what moves customers, knows their considerations and necessities and speaks their language. “For a successful project, a smooth understanding between the customer and the shipyard is essential,” says Sellschopp.
Central contact for the customer
There is a great responsibility on the shoulders of a project leader. He is the direct contact for the customer. At the same time he is the central point of contact for the team executing the project. Project work is above all one thing: teamwork. “As a project manager, you cannot accomplish anything without a good team and without a good relationship with this team,” emphasizes Sommer.
A project manager does not need to perfectly master every necessary task himself. Confidence in the colleagues and the ability to deploy them properly are of much greater importance. Whether the project participants come directly from within the company or from a partner company, does not matter, “Everyone’s main concern is to optimally manage the tasks ahead. The only difference is the company name on the overalls, “says Sommer.
The eye for detail protects you against surprises
However, a project can only be as good as the preparation. There can be a world of differences in the assignment of the task on part of the shipowner: “One only says briefly, do this or do that. The other defines the tasks on hundreds of pages,” the GDD project manager knows from experience. It is important to have a close look at the respective ship and the actual task in advance: “Every detail that I can clarify beforehand could mean one surprise less when it comes to the implementation.”
Equally important, however, is the knowledge about the internal processes required for the performance of a task. The times in which ship builders were able to manage large projects with a sense of proportion and experience are long gone. Ship owners rightly expect strict adherence to deadlines and top quality. “And all this at an internationally competitive price,” emphasizes the project manager, who is very familiar with the competition situation during his time at a shipping company.
Quality beats cost pressure in international competition
Retrofit and conversion projects are no longer traded on a regional market. Providers such as GDD from high-wage Germany have to assert themselves against competitors from abroad, which offer at significantly lower hourly rates. With excellent quality, companies like GDD can eliminate some of the apparent price advantage of competitors abroad: who buys cheaply, buys twice; this is also true in shipping. “But the cost issue can only be mastered if you have perfect control of your own processes,” explains Sellschopp. It starts with the calculation of the required effort up to the organisation of the tasks and the accurate monitoring and control in the execution.
At GDD, the optimized process and project control is an important building block of the future GDD 4.0, which aims at optimal service for the customer at optimal costs. “Basically, it is the clear signal of confidence to the shipowner: we will solve your problems,” says Sommer. The digital control in the background ensures security, but the quality of the work is the responsibility of the project team: “And as a project manager, I know that I can always answer to that,” adds Sommer.