Improving Project Outcome with Integrated Systems Engineering at pre-FEED and FEED

Summary: A successful E & P construction project is one whose outcome meets the owner’s expectations for schedule, cost, performance, and safety. Unfortunately, there is typically an inverse relationship between the size and complexity of the project, and the certainty of a successful outcome. One of the major contributors to this inverse relationship is the fact that a modern exploration or production facility is a complex integrated machine made up of mechanical, electrical, and chemical subsystems, all under the supervisory control of one or more instrumentation and software control systems.

In order to Improve the certainty of a successful project outcome, it is essential that the pre-FEED/FEED stages deliver a package to the EPC contractor that fully describes the owner’s specific expectations for delivery, cost, performance, and safety of the integrated facility as a whole.

This package must include at least three critical elements to help ensure a successful outcome:

  1. A comprehensive, specific and verified set of requirements
  2. A fully validated initial design
  3. A verification and acceptance plan

Producing a package that includes these three critical elements is a multi-disciplinary project effort. While it may be obvious that test engineering can make a contribution to the verification and acceptance plan, the key role integrated systems test engineering plays in the formation of requirements and the validation of design is often overlooked. Applying this discipline to the pre-FEED/FEED project phases significantly improves the certainty of successful outcome by enabling the verification and management of requirements, the validation of design, and the verification and acceptance planning.


Albert Einstein once said “A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.” A defect (an unmet requirement), is a problem that becomes 10x more expensive to detect and fix for every lifecycle phase it escapes. It is the wise person who understands that it is the combination of effective requirements, design and test engineering that avoids this problem by enabling the detection of defects early enough in the process to either prevent them entirely or fix them in a manner that actually saves time and money.

During the pre-FEED/FEED project phases the requirements and design engineers are focused on ensuring that all end user system requirements are defined, realized and met in the design. However, it is most often the case that the same requirements and design engineers are NOT focused on how it will eventually be proven to the end user that any given requirement has actually been met by the design.

The statement “the requirement is met by design” is not a valid argument that a requirement has been met. A formal proof, through testing is an absolute necessity.

It is the test engineer who provides the method and execution of this formal proof. In order to be effective, test engineering must be concurrent with requirements and design engineering. Otherwise the result is often requirements that cannot be proven through testing. Requirements that cannot be proven through testing should not be a part of the design. In fact, the commonly accepted definition of a requirement is that it not only states clearly and unambiguously what the end user desires, but also include the verification method that will be used to prove the requirement. Given this, test engineering activities are not only integral to successful requirements engineering, they should also precede design engineering.

An effective integrated test engineering activity provides this “other side of the coin” during the system pre-FEED/FEED project activities. While the requirements and design engineers can remain focused on making sure all requirements are defined, verified and met by the system design, the test engineer can focus on ensuring that it can be proved (through test) that the requirements are in fact met.


Integrated systems test engineering asks and answers the question – “Does the system meet the owner’s expectations for performance and safety?” In other words – was the outcome successful? In order to answer this question, owner expectations must be defined through valid, comprehensive requirements. A valid requirement has four attributes: complete, traceable, unambiguous and verifiable.

Satisfying the “complete” attribute must take into account that the owner’s expectations (the outcome they want), go well beyond the requirements for structural integrity, equipment footprint, or individual machine performance specifications. While these are critical design elements, and key outputs of the pre-FEED/FEED phases, they are not fully representative of the owner’s expectations. Meeting these requirements alone will not meet the owner’s desired outcome.

The owner’s expectation is that the integrated system functions as they intend. Requirements that do not include the integrated systems functional behavior are not complete and will result in a system design that does not provide sufficient certainty of outcome.

“Traceable” means that the satisfaction and verification of a given requirement can be tracked and managed to completion. The creating and management of a requirements traceability matrix helps ensure that the satisfaction and verification of each requirement is accomplished at the earliest possible point in the project schedule, which research proves is also the most cost-effective point in the project schedule.

The “unambiguous” and “verifiable” attributes are related – and from an integrated system test engineering perspective are often considered together. If the requirement is ambiguous, it will be difficult, if not impossible to define a test to verify it. If it cannot be verified, it cannot be met. In essence, stating an ambiguous requirement that cannot be verified is a waste of time and money, as that requirement by definition cannot be met.

Integrated systems test engineering makes a significant contribution to the improvement of the requirements generation and validation activities by:

  • Evaluating the completeness of the requirements against the overall integrated system functional concepts, relevant regulatory requirements and client specific operational procedures
  • Establishing, owning, and managing the requirements traceability matrix for the entire project lifecycle
  • Determining the unambiguous and verifiable nature of each requirement


Design is a realization of requirements. As the design progresses, it must be continuously validated against the requirements to ensure that all stated recruitments will be met by the design. Requirements that cannot be met must be reconsidered. Additional capabilities provided by the design, but not articulated in the requirements must be reviewed for inclusion in the traceability matrix that enables requirements management and verification.

In addition, the verifiability of a requirement must not be impacted by the design. It is possible to design system in a way that includes the requirement, but makes it impossible to verify. In this case, the design has rendered the requirement invalid.

During design validation activities, integrated systems test engineering manages and maintains the traceability matrix to ensure all requirements are satisfied by the design and that the verifiability of the requirement has not been impacted by the design.


During the requirements verification and design validation activities, integrated test engineering ensures that the requirements can be verified in order to provide the proof that the owner’s expectations have been met. The verification and acceptance plan is the document that describes exactly how and when each requirement will be verified, and how each machine, sub system and system will be accepted and commissioned. This plan describes in detail the specific test methodologies that will be used at each milestone on the project.

It is tempting for the pre-FEED and FEED project teams to assign the scheduling and responsibility for this plan into the later phases of the project. Doing so however, ignores the sometimes significant cost and schedule impacts that not planning for specific test activities can have. This is especially true of integration testing. A complete live integrated functional test is often too expensive to execute prior to commissioning, however the majority of high schedule and cost impact issues are usually attributable to integration problems.

An integrated systems verification and acceptance plan developed as part of pre-FEED and FEED can make use of distributed test techniques, and simulation methods that can be executed much earlier in the project lifecycle at a much lower cost. The EPC contractor can incorporate the verification and acceptance plan into the EPC project schedule to ensure its effective execution.


 An unmet owner expectation is defined as a defect, and in most cases, the defect must be corrected before the owner will accept the system.

Comprehensive cross-industry research has established that the cost of detecting and fixing a defect increased by a factor of 10 for each phase of the project lifecycle. This means that a defect that is introduced by not executing a proper recruitments validation costs over 100 times more to detect and fix when it’s found at factory acceptance.

By introducing the integrated systems test engineering expertise necessary to validate the integrated systems based requirements, perform the hazard and failure analysis and craft the test methods and plans during pre-FEED/FEED, you are significantly increasing the chances that defects will be detected and fixed earlier rather than later.


Athens Group provides a comprehensive portfolio of integrated systems engineering-based verification, validation and inspection services for oil and gas exploration and production systems and the platforms on which those assets are installed.

Within its portfolio of services, Athens Group’s Integrated Systems Lifecycle ManagementSM services deliver an end-to-end suite of integrated system lifecycle activities including concepts, planning execution and follow-up for all major lifecycle milestone activities. The early lifecycle pre-FEED and FEED activities are targeted to successful creation and execution of an Integrated Systems Verification and Acceptance Plan. This plan is intended to ensure that all verification, test and acceptance milestones are executed as a single integrated systems test plan, rather than separate and disconnected events. This significantly increases the certainty of outcome that the delivered integrated system meets the operational requirements of the owner.

The success of this plan begins with verification and acceptance planning activities during the pre-FEED and FEED stages of a complex integrated exploration or production facilities project.

Planning Activity Deliverables:

  • Workshops, one-on-one and other interactions with stakeholders necessary to educate and gain alignment on the goals and capabilities for each verification and acceptance milestone and methodology to be used.
  • Technical documentation review, analysis, revision, approval and management as necessary to support the verification and acceptance engineering functions.
  • Active participation in requirements verification activities with specific responsibility for the determination of the verifiability of each requirement.
  • Active participation in the design review process to ensure design satisfies requirements
  • Creation, management and execution of a requirements traceability matrix.
  • Execution of relevant risk evaluation HAZID, FMEA and FMECA activities to drive verification and acceptance plans.
  • Equipment systems and operations specific Integrated Systems Test Lifecycle Plan for the integrated system. This plan can be used as the contractual agreement between the OEMs, the EPC and the owner to drive all verification and acceptance lifecycle activities.

For additional information or to discuss your specific project, please or call us toll free +1 (877) 499-8393.

Technology Assurance ServicesSM, Proven PracticesSM, Integrated Systems Lifecycle ManagementSM, SmartlistSM, and the Athens Group logo are all service marks of Athens Group, Inc.Copyright 2016 Athens Group.
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