How would you identify good quality assurance? Can you be certain the reviewers have considered everything they need to know? How would you be able to tell that you have what you need to proceed with confidence, when you’re potentially risking millions on an upstream project?
Well, initially, we’d suggest that the onus shouldn’t actually be on you to know. At least, we don’t think it should be your responsibility to anticipate what the reviewers need to see. As for the quality assurance process itself – there are a few telltale signs that are indicative of an effective or potentially ineffective review.
The limitations of the quality assurance process as you might know it
A classic form of assurance involves a presentation by an upstream project team often focusing on a specific problem they have identified and on which they have requested assistance. The reviewers ask questions and take copious notes. Once the presentation finishes, the reviewers take some time to compare notes and consider their findings and decide which areas to comment on, based on where they feel there might be overlooked or unquantified risks, and make recommendations on how the team could proceed.
Rockflow team members who have participated in these types of review presentations in the past says that, as a reviewer, they were always concerned that they might not be providing the best advice as they often didn’t get a holistic view of the development, its value drivers and the business decisions to be made.
They were never certain the client had chosen to present material that covered the full depth of the potential problems and, in the worst cases, the review could be unconsciously misdirected by those presenting. The reviewers would only be able to comment of the material presented to them and as such could provide misleading recommendations whilst not identifying or addressing the more significant risks and opportunities to the project.
Another common problem with assurance is timing, often being held right before the project was due to be greenlit. Even if the reviewers identified key actions the company should take, there would be little or no time to act on those recommendations. In the most extreme circumstances, this could result in a last-minute termination of the project, or the project continues carrying a significant risk of failure.
This style of assurance, being driven by the client using defined presentations has its place and is still useful to address specific issues with an established understanding of risk impact to the project.
What does good project assurance look like?
With decades of experience performing technical assurance, the Rockflow team have learnt what it takes to deliver systematic, consistent, insightful, impactful and timely assurance.
1. Start assurance early
Firstly, Rockflow experts have learnt to start assurance early and continue through to the final investment decision – it’s far better to fail early and cheaply, rather than late and at great expense.
2. Assurance starts with the big picture
Secondly, we have learnt that effective assurance starts with the big picture, even if the problem presented to us by our client might be technically specific. We know that an understanding of the field development plan, the value drives and the timing of business decisions will help us provide more insightful advice to our clients. For example, presented with a seismic depth conversion assurance problem, Rockflow experts would explore why this matters; how it impacts the value of the project and how depth conversion might compare to other risks. Great assurance starts with the question ‘are we considering the right things?’.
3. Minimise bias and misdirection
Thirdly, to achieve consistency and minimise bias and misdirection and having framed the review within a holistic understanding of the project risks and opportunities, a good review team will define the scope of the review and set out the information required from the project team. Ideally, this information is provided by the project team as pre-read in advance of any formal review meetings. Again, Rockflow reviewers have learnt that review meetings are most effective as interactive Q&A discussions led by the review team rather than formal presentations led by the project team. Equally effective are one-on-one technical discussions often at a workstation. In this way, assurance may imperceptively merge into coaching, enhancing the experience and capability of the project team.
How to recognise effective and consistent assurance
One sign of effective assurance is the use a toolkit by the review team – a kind of checklist that’s not dissimilar to the list of pre-flight checks that pilots undertake. This enables the reviewer to systematically address all components of the project and independently identify the principal risks and opportunities, leaving no stone unturned.
Unlike a pre-flight check, however, the risks that can influence a successful “flight” in the oil and gas industry are far more diverse and difficult to quantify. For that reason, a checklist is far less easy to standardise. The checklist cannot be so detailed it becomes irrelevant when used in a different oil or gas field, but it still needs to allow the reviewer to consistently explore the most relevant components in sufficient detail, so the full breadth of possibilities can be held up to the light and examined.
A framework for quality assurance
Perhaps then, it’s more useful to think of what Rockflow has come to use as less of a detailed checklist, and more of a high-level framework. This framework is standardised enough to be systematic but dynamic enough to enable us to ask questions about the most relevant factors impacting the value of a project, setting out the key business questions and unearthing what might have an impact on those decisions.
We complete these Rockflow frameworks in stages. Our first assurance check might focus on the Area Development Plan framework, followed by the geological description using our Integrated Subsurface Description framework. Subsequently, as we review the dynamic characterisation of the field we would use our Reservoir Performance and Prediction framework. Our use of these frameworks enables us to:
- Frame the overall review schedule
- Make specific requests of the team for the pre-read information required by the review team
- Perform a systematic and comprehensive review, leaving ‘no-stone-unturned’
- Frame our findings and recommendations
Turning these frameworks into a scorecard with a simple RAG traffic light scheme also enables Rockflow to clearly communicate our findings and recommendations.
What is the cost of good assurance?
Can you put a price on good assurance? Hiring experts can at first glance appear to be an expensive option, perhaps costing tens of thousands of pounds over the course of an oil & gas project. However, set against a total development cost that can range from hundreds of million to billions of dollars, and where the assurance may identify significant risks or opportunities to the project, the cost of quality assurance will always be a wise investment.