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Checklists Don’t Work

Checklists Don’t Work

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 247).

A property design and construction project is like an episode of Seinfeld. Everyone has their own story line and nobody learns anything.

Everything in property design and construction is reduced to its minimum viable product or service i.e. the least that can be delivered to get paid.

We all know what has to be done. However, we either do not know how to do it or do not really want to do it. A good example of this is installation quality control and pre-commissioning (PFT) on new construction projects.

Checklists are the prophylactics of the construction industry. Their purpose is to provide:

  • Formal structure and guidance to the quality control process.
  • When signed off, provide evidence of a quality control job done.
  • Signal completion of one phase and the ability to proceed with the next phase.

Checklists also provide alibi’s for managers in the construction process. They serve as evidence that the specialist vendor, TAB firm, Cx firm etc. can mobilize to site. Below is part of the e-mail I send to clients who ask for site mobilization on the basis that everything is ready:

“Please see attached the Pre-Functional Performance (PFT) or Pre-commissioning Checklists (from the approved Commissioning Plan). 

Pre-functional testing checklists are evidentiary and important. They attest that the equipment and systems are connected and operational, that functional performance testing may proceed without unnecessary delays.

The approved Commissioning Plan requires each piece of equipment receive full checkout by the contractor. No sampling strategies are permitted. The contractor completes the attached checklists for all equipment and systems prior to formal systems functional performance testing (FPT). These contractor signed checklists will be verified by the CxA. prior to functional performance testing.”

How often have I been mobilized with signed off Pre-Functional Performance checklists and got to site and the installation is not complete or operational? 90% of the time, particularly if there is no full time commissioning manager on site for the contractor.

IMHO, checklists don’t work because:

  • They tend to be done as a desk top, paperwork exercise rather than as the conclusion to physical on-site inspections.
  • There are no consequences to signing off checklists as a desk top only exercise.
  • Checklists and “processes” in construction relegate domain expertise as they provide structure, direction and a false sense of competence.

Checklists work as a “fail safe” for airplane pre-takeoff checks due to the horrific consequences of a mistake. They do not work for new construction other than to make people feel good.

This is my problem with the USA definition of building commissioning as a “quality process”. This approach is open to abuse as completed paperwork implies everything is OK. There are no real consequences for faking the paperwork. To have integrity, the focus has to be on technical verification.

If commissioning was actually done per ASHRAE guidelines and as implied by all the checklists out there, buildings would actually be handed over that work with no defects. In 39 years I have never seen this happen.

IMHO, my modified UK commissioning definition below better serves clients as it is outcome based i.e. It asks the question, “is the system verified as operating in accordance with specified requirements”?

Commissioning Definition

“the advancement of a system and building via testing and verification, from a state of static completion to full dynamic operation in accordance with specified requirements.”

Commissioning only works if it is implemented as an independent tool based on physical testing and verification of systems performance. Commissioning is about evidence, it is the pursuit of truth!

Beware the large binder of checklists offered as evidence of installation completion!

Twitter: @BLDWhisperer

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Related Posts & Links

#200 – Process is not Outcome

#187 – Commissioning Industry Chaos

#226 – Hiring Mistakes

#224 – How to Change the Property Industry

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#ProjectManagement #makingbuildingswork #podcast #CxM #checklist



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