Firing on All Cylinders: Project Management Lessons in a Project Startup


Andy Cuthbert


Houston, Texas, USA


Managing a project startup requires a diverse set of skills, many of which are second nature and common sense to industry veterans. However, the role of a project manager for a new endeavor, in a new area, in a new country, requires dedication to building a coherent team, incorporating best practices, and developing an analytical modus operandi that enables the project to progress on time, on budget, and within the scope defined in the project charter.

Expertise in project management is especially pertinent in drilling startups where the efficacy of the project team is ensured through the competency of the proper personnel with the appropriate skillsets, a project manager who encourages the team, leads with enthusiasm and maintains control while upholding an ethical code of conduct, and through the support of the Project Management Office (PMO). Obtaining sufficient resources, organizing on and offsite facilities and support mechanisms, dealing with scope creep, risk management, management of change and developing processes and procedures for project startups requires experienced focus and energy.

Using project management principles to facilitate control of a project is essential to the accomplishment of anticipated goals. However, an enterprise that ignores feedback from the wider team does so at the peril of the project. A specific environment includes a special set of conditions that, without mindful project leadership, might result in the project failing to meet its objectives in a safe, timely, or efficient manner.


There are many aspects to successfully managing a project startup in a developing country, regardless of the subject matter. During risk analysis both threats and opportunities are identified, but most issues that occur on major projects can be traced back to the very beginning. During the initiation of a project, an agreement to the commitment of resources for the first stage of the project has to be made to enable a smooth transition to the subsequent stage(s) of the project.

Hence, the vital components for success are clear project objectives and robust planning built around three fundamental elements:

  • Knowledge: Ensure that the information required for the project team is available.
  • Skillset: Design and appoint the Project Management Team
  • Create the staging plans.

Navigating the risks involved in medium- to large-scale operations is a significant challenge associated with projects in frontier areas. Everything from contract type to policy and regulations will be shaped by the needs and desires of host governments. Furthermore, the domestic political, financial, economic, and environmental pressures will drive their external behavior toward foreign companies. Thus, the key to commercial success in these frontier areas is the ability to anticipate how stakeholder demands will evolve.

Stakeholder management is essential and identifying the main players early means that focus can be directed to managing expectations, from government and customer echelons to the project team themselves. Preliminary preparation for this should be completed by the Project Manager before arrival in-country, as well as production of the Project Charter and selection of the project team (in an ideal world the Project Manager would choose the project team he will be working with). 


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This paper was originally presented at the 8th Annual UT Dallas Project Management Symposium in Richardson, Texas, USA in August 2014. It is republished here with permission of the author and symposium organizers. For more about the annual UT Dallas PM Symposium, click here.

About the Author

andy cuthbertAndy Cuthbertflag-usa


Houston, TX, USA

Having graduated from the University of London with a BSc. (Hons) Geology in 1981, Andy went on to complete an MPhil. in Geology before joining the Oil Industry in 1984. He has 30 years of oilfield experience, 10 years with Schlumberger and 20 years with Halliburton. Amongst the years spent with Halliburton Andy has been involved in projects of ever increasing complexity involving the introduction and coordination of new technology. Time spent as the Project Coordinator for the BG Group in Tunisia in 1995 was succeeded by Project Management in Norway in a production sharing project and on the Talisman Gyda project in 2004. A move to Malaysia in 2006 saw Andy leave project management to take up a regional management position for operations in Southeast Asia, China, the Indian sub-continent and Australasia. A year after moving to Houston in 2009 he resumed his role in Halliburton Project Management and has participated in or is currently involved in projects in the USA, Tanzania, Singapore, India and Iraq. Andy has written or co-authored drilling industry technical papers for the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) on both Directional Drilling and Multilateral Technology and given presentations to the SPE community all over the world. His main hobbies are rugby union; he is an International Rugby Board (IRB) Level II referee, and cycling, especially for charitable causes. He currently lives in Houston with his wife and two children. Andy can be contacted at [email protected].

Halliburton’s corporate website is http://www.halliburton.com/.