Commissioning is a quality control process performed by a team with representatives from all the major entities involved in a construction or upgrade project. The process is led by the commissioning agent, but many, if not most, of the activities are performed by the other team members. For the process to work correctly, it is imperative that each participant understand his or her specific role and execute the duties and responsibilities associated with their role and purview.

Formal, full life-cycle commissioning begins during the initial programming phase of the project prior to developing the actual engineering and design documents. It then continues through the engineering and design phase, construction phase, startup and acceptance testing, and extends into the initial operation of the facility or infrastructure and includes delivering comprehensive site as-built and record documents as well as operations staff training.

The commissioning team should have representatives from the owner, commissioning agent, architect and engineering firms, the owner’s operating staff, the general contractor, and the major subcontractors, vendors, and suppliers. Some of these team members need to be onboard at project inception including the owner’s critical stakeholders, the commissioning agent, and the architects and engineers. Other team members may join the commissioning team later as the project progresses from design to construction including the general contractor, subcontractors, vendors, and suppliers. The earlier the operating staff can be assigned and brought onboard the better and, ideally, at least one representative with a broad knowledge of the facilities operations and management organization is included in the pre-design programming phase.

Perhaps the most important role of all is that of the site owner. The more engaged and active the owner remains in the commissioning process the better. For commissioning to work effectively, the owner must understand the commissioning process, what it is as well as what it is not, and demonstrably support the commissioning agent. The owner must also ensure the roles, responsibilities, activities, and deliverables of all project participants are clearly defined and specified in binding contracts and agreements. After all, the purpose of commissioning is at least in part to ensure the owner gets what was paid for.

The reality is that way too often the owner relies too heavily on the architects and engineers (A&Es) to decide what are the best designs and engineered solutions without first establishing formal and comprehensive project requirements. One of the key roles of the commissioning agent is to facilitate and lead a pre-design, programming workshop for the purpose of gathering all of the owner’s stakeholders to establish and agree on the project requirements. The culmination of this workshop is a formal document called the owners project requirements (OPR) for new construction projects. A similar document called the current facility requirements (CFR) document should be developed for commissioning of existing buildings that are being repurposed or otherwise renovated.

As the project proceeds to the engineering and design phase, the A&E chooses design strategies, concepts, and solutions that fulfill the requirements defined in the OPR. The A&E demonstrates this by developing a basis-of-design (BOD) document that describes at a high level how each of the OPR requirements will be achieved. Again, the commissioning agent’s role is to review the BOD and construction documents, compare them with the requirements set forth in the OPR, and facilitate discussions with the owner to ensure there is clear understanding and agreement that the design meets
the expectations.

The role of the A&E is to not only produce detailed construction documents, but also to establish the criteria for what constitutes acceptable site, system, and equipment performance. These performance criteria are captured in the equipment and system specifications and the detailed sequences-of-operations (SOOs) that describe how equipment and systems perform. The A&E also defines the acceptance criteria for any factory testing; establishes construction means and methods; defines acceptance test criteria such as cleaning, flushing, and pressure testing of piping systems; electrical equipment acceptance test criteria such as meggering, primary injection testing, and other NETA tests; and other criteria such as noise abatement, HVAC system stability and environmental control ranges, etc.

Input and buy-in from the owner’s facilities operating staff is critical since they will eventually be responsible and accountable for the long-term operation and maintenance of the site. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the owner to not have the operation staff on board or assigned at this juncture in the project. In that case, it typically falls on the commissioning agent to represent the operating staff’s point of view and ensure the project includes providing for the needs of the operating staff. Examples would include provisions for a facilities command center, offices, storage, document controls, standard and emergency operating procedures, and site-specific training. The commissioning agent should consider these facilities management aspects when performing the design reviews mentioned above including a detailed analysis of what site specific training will be appropriate to match the operating staff’s assigned duties and responsibilities.

As the design phase nears completion the owner should be bringing the general contractor onboard. This assumes the project is using the traditional design-bid-build approach (vs. a design-build approach). The general contractor must understand and accept that they are not independent of commissioning, but are an integral part of the process and are active participants in the commissioning process. Commissioning shouldn’t be seen as being imposed upon the contractors where they build the facility and “others” commission their work. This understanding must also be passed down to the respective subcontractors, vendors, and suppliers that they too are participants in the commissioning process.

The construction team consists of the general contractor and associated subcontractors, vendors, and suppliers. The role of the construction team is to execute the directives taken from the construction documents and then to support the commissioning process by demonstrating compliance with the design drawings, specifications, means and methods, and overall site and/or system and equipment performance. The A&E defines the requirements; the commissioning agent devises the processes, procedures and scripts to validate compliance; and the construction team then demonstrates compliance by providing deliverables and products that are measured to meet the project requirements. Compliance is demonstrated in various ways such as through the submittal approval process, equipment and material receiving and storage, construction progress inspections, equipment and system startup and pre-functional testing, and culminating in acceptance testing including functional testing and integrated systems testing.

The owner’s operating staff is not part of the construction team, but it still has a very important role to perform during the construction phase. Specifically, the operating staff needs to participate in any factory witness testing and construction progress inspections to ensure their long-term operations and maintenance needs are properly provisioned for, that they are intimately familiar with the site construction and documentation, and participate or at least witness the acceptance testing activities. The operating staff should participate in all training classes and activities provided which should be scheduled to occur concurrent with construction and not as an afterthought. It is the commissioning agent’s responsibility to ensure the training is programmed into the project requirements, embedded into the project master schedule, and performed to take advantage of the training opportunities associated with acceptance testing.

Ultimately, it is the owner who must accept or reject the work and products of the overall project team. The owner should rely on input from the commissioning agent with regard to how the deliverables and products meet the project requirements and specifications. The owner should rely on input from the operating staff as to how well the site is provisioned for long-term operations and maintenance and that they have received the appropriate training and site documentation.