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Process Is Not Outcome

Process is not Outcome

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 200).     

“But I followed the process in full”, said everyone trying to explain a failure in expected outcome.

 In construction, people sometimes mistake process with outcome. Just because you follow a process does not mean you achieve the required outcome and this is the weakness in the ASHRAE definition of building commissioning.

Commissioning is about “evidence” not “process”. Commissioning is ensuring, via on-site verification that the building and its systems operate and perform as intended. Commissioning is an outcome based phenomenon, that outcome is something actually performing as specified. Call me old fashioned, but isn’t this what clients pay for? 

So my beef with the ASHRAE definition of commissioning is what I see as a focus on process. The building commissioning process is not an outcome, it is a journey people say they have taken to meet a project requirement. IMHO, process acts as an intellectual prophylactic that diverts attention away from the outcome. In the building commissioning context, just following the process and producing lots of paperwork can be a waste of time, but I guess it looks good, right?

To improve building performance outcomes I believe there has to be a focus on commissioning outcomes, not process. Process is useful because projects are also about people, but process is only a “road map”. What really matters is the end result. I believe processes should be automated and moved to software whenever possible. 

Lets review some definitions: 

ASHRAE Definition

“A quality-focused process for enhancing the delivery of a project. The process focuses upon verifying and documenting that all of the commissioned systems and assemblies are planned, designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained to meet the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR).”


“A series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end”

I feel this definition has a focus on process not outcome and provides cover for people to say we followed the process rather than we achieved the outcome. On the majority of projects;

  • the OPR is not written or available,
  • if it is there, it has been retrospectively produced because I have asked for it, 
  • if it is written, it is not specific enough to have value. 

Project specifications are the correct, technical and legal documents to define compliance and should be referenced in the ASHRAE commissioning definition IMHO. 

Another weakness I see in the ASHRAE Cx guidelines is that they are light on the how of “verifying”. There are no sampling strategies stated or guidance on what systems must be verified 100%. This has led to the market responding with low skill, low cost providers who undertake commissioning more as a paperwork shuffling and verification process rather than a technical, physical verification task. 

Currently I see two types of commissioning:

1. Paper (process) based i.e. all desk top reviews and lots of “reports” and little or no site testing/verification. This is the RFP, fixed price commodity end of the market i.e minimum compliance only with lots of thick template reports to make everyone feel good.

2. Technical based i.e. actual on site verification, witnessing and testing of systems and integrated systems testing. This is the professional, high end of the market where reputation and ability outweigh price. This is client advocacy i.e ensuring the client gets what they paid for. 

The winner here is number 2, technical commissioning. The only value added form of commissioning, period, full stop, end of story!

The CIBSE definitions around commissioning are superior, concise and more outcome focused.

CIBSE Commissioning Definition

“The advancement of an installation from the stage of static completion to full working order to specified requirements”.

CIBSE Commissioning Management Definition: 

“The planning, organization, co-ordination and control of commissioning activities”.

CIBSE Commissioning Organization Definition:

“The firm (or person) appointed to manage the commissioning process, being responsible for overall planning, supervision and witnessing of the results of the integrated commissioning of all installed building services systems”.

Everything evolves and my proposed evolution for the definition of commissioning is: 

“The advancement of an installation from the stage of static completion to full working order in accordance with specified requirements, including integrated building systems testing. Commissioning includes the planning, organization, co-ordination, testing, on-site verification and reporting by an independent third party firm (or person).

Clarity is required before chaos can be removed. Clarity begins with an accurate and agreed world wide definition of commissioning. 

Question is, how do we get this definition adopted world wide? 

Twitter: @BLDWhisperer

Related posts & links:

Trust But Verify 

#187 – Commissioning Industry Chaos 

#69 – Clarity Equals Results – CxA Sampling Rates 

#183 – IST or no IST, that is the question! 

Edifice Complex Podcast


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