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Commissioning Management – A Project Management Derivative?

Commissioning Management – A Project Management Derivative?

​Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 34) – All IMHO:

“What is Commissioning Management?” North America (USA & Canada) seems to be confused about this concept despite it being a proven added value service in other world markets. 

Lets start with some basic definitions:

  • Project Management – “The delivery of a project via the management and leadership of the actions of others”  (my definition) ~ 80% soft &  20% technical skill sets
  • Commissioning – “Advancing systems and buildings from a state of static completion to full dynamic and verified operation” (I am paraphrasing the CIBSE) ~ 95% technical skill sets
  • Commissioning Management –  “The planning, organisation, co-ordination and control of commissioning activities”  (CIBSE Code M Definition) I would also add to this role “verification” or “witnessing” (UK parlance) of systems performance ~ 70% soft &  30% technical skill sets

Commissioning management is therefore a combination of the analytical and technical skills of commissioning combined with project management skills to plan organize and deliver. 

Now lets acknowledge some realities:

  • Buildings are highly technical and complex, they are not comprised of plug and play systems 
  • Construction is based on “minimum compliance” in a best case scenario
  • Building design drawings and specs are rarely complete and normally contain errors & omissions
  • The building is the “system” and needs to be set to work and commissioned in that context

Why did Commissioning Management emerge? If we look at the most mature Commissioning Management market, the UK, I saw several factors;

  1. Building complexity. Main contractors and their sub-contractors did not have the building engineering services skills in house to deliver buildings that worked.
  2. Generally, large property developers in the UK are well informed, technically savvy and not frightened to punish firms that do not perform.
  3. Main contractors responce to well informed clients was to manage some of their risk using specialist, independent Commissioning professionals to manage and verify (witness) MEP commissioning activities.
  4. A “commissionability” design review was also added to Commissioning Management services to identify risks to completion as early as possible. 
  5. Clients, developers and large tenants, started to hire “independent Commissioning Management” firms to verify (witness) the building and systems performance before they would accept buildings. There is no “lien act” legislation in the UK. 
  6. Eventually in 2010 Commissioning requirements were adopted into UK building regulations (building code).

The factors above can be summarized as, managed risk, verified performance and thus accountability with consequences for poor performance. The potential consequences being;

  • Repetitional i.e. risk of repeat business 
  • Buildings not accepted at completion and sometimes occupancy withheld by the jurisdiction having authority 
  • Legal action sometimes and financial pain most times for poor performance

So Commissioning Management is different things to different people;

  • For owners it is Advocacy  
  • For owners, project managers and contractors it is Risk Management 
  • For owners, project managers and contractors it is Quality Management during design phase and Quality Control during construction phase
  • For owners, project managers and contractors it is Validation of building, systems and equipment performance 
  • For owners and tenants it is Energy Optimization i.e. does the building perform and deliver as designed, systems are not “plug and play”
  • For owners and tenants it is Energy Savings i.e. you cannot save energy if the building does not operate, perform and deliver as designed

For North American main contractors I recommend they re-assign one of their project managers to another job site for the last six months of the project. Then use the money saved to hire a professional Commissioning Manager who can plan, organize, co-ordinate and control commissioning activities in the crucial last 6 months of a project. A risk management solution for low or no cost? In my experience, YES!

For more detailed information on Commissioning Management please see:

  • CIBSE Commissioning Code M: 2003 – Commissioning Management
  • BSRIA Application Guide AG11/98 – Project Management handbook for Building Services
  • BSRIA Commissioning Job Book – A Framework for Managing The Commissioning Process
  • BSRIA Application Guide 5/2002 – Commissioning Management – how to achieve a fully functioning building

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