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Operation Sluisjesdijk: how do you renovate a running factory?

How do you prepare a renovation of a running factory in the heart of Rotterdam? Then you call Marijn Spruit, Associate Partner at Boer & Croon. He is the right person to map out how you can prepare an organisation for such a drastic change.

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On the Sluisjesdijk, right next to the Maas Tunnel, is a sewage treatment plant with a sludge digester, where biogas is produced. This plant was built in the 1980s by the Hollandse Delta water board and is in need of thorough renovation. It is not only a complicated location, in the heart of Rotterdam, but also a complex installation. You cannot stop a running factory for a while. There is a continuous flow of sewage, methane is released and high voltage is used. Richard Moerenhout, Head of the Projects and Implementation Department of Waterschap Hollandse Delta, asked Marijn Spruit, Associate Partner at Boer & Croon, for advice.

The start in 2020

'In 2020, together with a consultancy firm, we did a study to map out what needs to be done,' Richard says. And then we asked Marijn to help us think about how we could smartly organise the implementation. Marijn has experience with complex installations. So we wanted to look with him at the implementation and organisational risks of such a renovation, but also at the opportunities that might arise. What alternatives are available and what are their advantages and disadvantages?'

'After an initial meeting with Richard and a member of the management, I started talking to as many people as possible,' Marijn continues. I asked Richard who the most important players were on the operational, maintenance, management and safety side. Of course, I also went to the site. Because of my background as an operational manager in factories, I was able to get a quick picture of what exactly was going on. That was necessary, because I was hired as a consultant, not as an interim manager. So it was a consultancy assignment to find out, within a limited number of hours, how best to tackle this complex renovation.'

'It was really about how we were going to carry out the renovation,' says Richard. There is a lot involved in moving from an existing situation to a new organisation. You have to deal with matters such as culture, behaviour and a different way of working together.'
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Openness within the organisation

Marijn was pleasantly surprised by the openness within the organisation. 'Imagine, many people have been working here for a long time and are enjoying themselves. Then I, as an outsider, come and ask all sorts of questions. That is quite penetrating. Because I was really pushing the limits. It's of no use to anyone if I just start talking to the water board. But people were very vulnerable and it showed that everyone was convinced that something had to be done. Richard played an important guiding role in making it clear to everyone that things had to change if this job was to be done.'

Working in a process-oriented way

Richard explains: 'Because we have chosen to rebuild the plant in one go, albeit in phases, we have to be process-oriented. This means that we have to form a team that is responsible for this and that takes over certain tasks from the departments. Because this involves a total renovation assignment of tens of millions of euros, you can't solve this within the current organisation by simply assigning a project manager to it. I have asked Marijn to come up with ideas on how we can give shape to such an executive organisation, with a clear mandate, so that we don't end up with several captains on one ship. It is also important that we have several plants with similar lifespans within the water board. It is therefore quite possible that we will repeat this type of implementation at other locations at some point. All of this has also resulted in us deciding to spend a year at the drawing board before we proceed with the renovation in order to sort everything out. A different culture of cooperation is needed. You can't say, it will go into effect next Friday at three o'clock.'

'You also have to arrange governance', says Marijn. 'In such a larger organisation, it is very important that the management and the board are kept well informed by means of appropriate reports. On the other hand, the project team must be self-managing, at some distance from the management, with the management only being called in case of escalation or major budgetary issues. Of course, this requires a certain responsibility on the part of the team members and the realisation that you are working on a common task. And not like before, when one team member was responsible for operations, another for maintenance and yet another for projects and there was no intention of looking outside one's own kitchen.'

The flexible cooperation

'The cooperation between Marijn and me was also very special', Richard concludes. First of all, he helped me to define the assignment clearly. Then the interaction started, looking for each other's strengths, and then you extended that to the other people in the organisation.'
'Yes, and that was successful because of everyone's openness. I always had in mind that I am a temporary advisor and that Richard should be allowed to present the plan to the board and the management, and give the water board the confidence that this is the right way.'
'Because in the end I had to ask the board for money for a sort of interim year. But we managed to convince them that we would soon be able to earn back that investment in more than one way. But in hindsight, we had to steer for a long time on uncertain factors, so this was quite an exciting phase.'