Commissioning is integral to your project’s quality process. Commissioning is more than just testing the equipment once construction is complete – commissioning spans the entire duration of the project and ensures the owner receives a system properly commissioned, that can be operated and maintained for many years to come.
In this article, we’ll discuss the following:
- How is the commissioning process an integral part of the project’s quality process and its impact on your quality assurance and quality management process
- Where does commissioning exist within the project management framework
You may be aware of the three-legged stool of project management - scope, schedule, budget - also known as the triple constraints. The goal of every project is to meet these 3 constraints:
- Scope – the work to be completed and the quality levels to be achieved
- Schedule – the time that the work must be completed by
- Budget – the money available to complete the work
Of course, safety is also an important requirement of the project.
Let me describe your weekly site progress review meeting:
- The meeting starts off with a discussion on safety and environment – have there been any safety incidents in the past week or any accidental spills requiring clean-up?
- The Project Manager or owner asks if things are generally on track – is the work being completed per schedule?
- The contractor requests the status of the RFI responses and submittal reviews that they are waiting for. Despite the consultant having a review time specified in the contract, the contractor claims these responses are delaying the work and asks for an expedited review.
- The Project Manager or owner asks how much the project is costing, and the contractor asks if last month's progress payment request has been approved.
But where is the discussion on quality? The other two legs of the project management stool are discussed, but the third leg gets completely ignored.
The scope/quality discussion often is completely omitted from the weekly progress discussion. Yes, there maybe is mention of an inspection report that was submitted in the past week. But where are the quality issues identified in this report being discussed and how are they being addressed?
How can it be that quality is left out of the discussion and the effect on building performance decisions?
If the important topics are to be discussed weekly at the progress review meeting with the contractor, consultant, and owner, how can one of the legs of the project management stool be left out?
Is the work meeting the quality requirements that the owner has specified in the contract?
Will the owner be able to properly operate and maintain the new facilities for many years to come?
The project management stool is not going to stand for long with only two legs being addressed on a weekly basis.
The project structure makes it challenging at the best of times to address issues, and nearly impossible when things are not going well. If quality issues are being discovered at the site level, nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news to their superior.
For quality control - the field technician reports to their field supervisor, the field supervisor reports to their site superintendent, and the site superintendent reports to the construction manager – all being overseen by the quality manager.
For quality assurance – the consultant’s field inspector reports to their supervisor, who reports to the QA manager, who reports to the project manager. There is a long chain of command for quality issues in the field to make their way to the top. When quality issues are identified in the field, the message gets diluted before it reaches senior leadership that can address the issues.
The Commissioning Process Misconception
Everyone would then say it’s the commissioning team’s role to identify issues during testing, get everything fixed, and make the project work in the end, right? It sounds like a good idea to test everything at the end of the project, and this is when quality issues can be discovered, why wouldn’t anyone want to do this?
By optimising your quality management and quality assurance process, you will mitigate costly risks, even before project completion.
It may also be discovered mid-way through the project that the required quality levels are not being achieved. The project leaders determine that they need to bring in a third-party commissioning group to fix everything. But by then it’s too late. The damage is done, things have progressed too far, and the project team find that quality issues have been left to fester for too long.
When the third-party commissioning team arrives at site, everyone becomes defensive, and communication stops by all groups for fear of being sued. And all the commissioning team can do at this point is identify the deficiencies in the design or installation that need to be addressed – the finger pointing begins. If the right precautions and systems were put in place in the design and construction phases, customer satisfaction and first time quality would be achieved.
It could also be misunderstood that the contractor is responsible for all aspects of commissioning – they built it, so they need to make it work as well. While the contractor may be responsible for a large portion of the commissioning process, they will only be focusing on their scope of work.
There is a lot more planning and coordination involved to integrate existing systems with new facilities during the commissioning process. These activities are overseen by the commissioning team and will not necessarily be the contractor’s responsibility.
Commissioning is not simply testing the equipment at the end of construction – this misconception undermines the value of commissioning project as an integral quality process that benefits the project and the owner. If quality issues are not raised and are instead deferred to the end of the project for the commissioning team to deal with, the poor commissioning team that is brought into the project at a late stage is not going to be successful.
The commissioning team is set up for failure with this approach.
Instead, the commissioning team must be engaged early in the project and adhere to the owner's project requirements while acting as the quality champion for the project, participating in all aspects of the project from start to finish. The commissioning team needs to be involved early to ensure quality is addressed at every stage and to ensure that they are being set up for successful commissioning at the end of the project.
The commissioning team needs to be an independent group that can interact with all other groups on the project. This way, the commissioning team is able to discuss issues being encountered and how they can be addressed, report in real-time to the project leaders on the level of quality being achieved, what is working well and what is not, and how to best position the project for success in the end.
The commissioning team needs to be empowered in this role, since they are the group responsible to make the systems work in the end and are therefore in the best position to forecast problems and propose solutions to address them earlier in the project.
When the commissioning team can operate independently and unburdened by the project reporting structure, they can help foster teamwork that is required to address issues with all groups and find solutions.
The commissioning team can be the bridge between all groups to ensure the best interests of the project are kept in mind and are the driver for best-for-project decisions being made. Of course, all groups need to protect their own commercial interests, but the commissioning team can be the group protecting the project interests to get the job done successfully – which is always in everyone’s best interest.
The mindset needs to shift in order that commissioning is established as a continuous quality process throughout the entire life of the project. The commissioning thought process needs to be part of the design, installation, and testing phases of the project in order that the required levels of quality are being achieved and that all groups involved are always looking towards the end of the project with success in mind.
With commissioning only joining the project at the end, this is not possible and does not get ahead of the issues before they become bigger problems.
This is not to say that commissioning is the saving grace that can miraculously solve all of the problems on the project – everyone still needs to fulfil their role to make the project successful. But the commissioning team can be the facilitator amongst all groups and provide guidance to the team to ensure all aspects are coming together for successful completion in the end.
Compare the project team to the plant process – the commissioning team performs the same function for both concepts, in that all equipment must be working together for the plant process to perform the desired function – and it is the same for the project team, everyone must be working together with same quality mindset to deliver the project successfully in the end. The commissioning team works with both concepts to ensure that all the right components come together at the end of the project.
The experience of the commissioning team will make all the difference. Since a lot of foresight is required to plan commissioning activities and prepare for potential risks that can occur, having commissioning team members that have done similar commissioning activities in the past will allow them to be aware of potential risks and pitfalls and plan appropriate mitigation strategies.
When reviewing design and installation deliverables, commissioning team members that have done this before will be able to identify possible quality issues to have them addressed earlier in the process.
This doesn’t mean that everyone on the commissioning team needs to have decades of experience, but you certainly want to have experienced commissioning leaders involved that can guide the team and help address any risks that are being identified. As a side note, there needs to be a balance of experience, and there is no better way for junior team members to learn more about commissioning than to be part of the on-site activities guided by experienced commissioning team members.
By engaging the commissioning team early in the project, the quality processes will benefit immensely by starting with the end in mind. The entire project will benefit from that end-of-project mindset to forecast issues and address them earlier in the project to ensure that the owner is receiving a quality product in the end.
Learn More About Commissioning
To learn more about commissioning, sign up for our 3-Day Mini-Course on Building Commissioning and Start-up. The course is free and flexible to take online at any time and gives you the fundamentals to get started with planning your commissioning project. Even if you are a commissioning expert, it is a good refresher to see how others are approaching maintain facility performance for construction projects, the quality focused process from pre commissioning and right through to the final commissioning report.
Get started with the mini course at www.CommissioningAndStartup.com/FTQ360