A risk register is a project management tool for identifying, characterizing, addressing, and tracking multiple types of risks associated with a project. They are often used on major design and construction projects. Any type of risk applicable to a project can be tracked in a risk register, including safety, environmental, public relations, schedule, and budget. Risk registers are started during the planning stages of a project and are carried through design, construction, and project closeout. 

I have always considered commissioning a risk management process and, as such, would not be surprised to see commissioning as a mitigation strategy for a risk named “poor system performance at the end of construction.” Let’s say the building owner knows from past project experience(s) that it is possible the new MEP systems will not function as needed when they are turned over to the owner for occupancy and operation. This would be a risk raised during the planning or design stage. Its likelihood would be assessed, and the seriousness of the consequences if the risk were to occur would be characterized.

The risk register would also document one (or more) potential mitigation strategy and their estimated costs. This is where commissioning would be included as a risk management strategy. The project team would then evaluate all of the risks and make a decision about implementing (or not) specific mitigation strategies. If a risk is deemed important enough to mitigate, someone would assume the responsibility to implement that strategy. 

Interestingly, I learned of a project where commissioning was added to the risk register early in construction … as a risk. That totally rocked my world. The senior project management team was concerned the questions and concerns raised by the commissioning professional through the design review conducted during the design review (conducted during the design phase) and submittal review (conducted early in construction) would result in increased project costs and/or schedule delays. 

Upon digging deeper, the problem was not with the comments/questions themselves, it was with the lack of response/resolution from the design team. Unresolved design review comments were carried into the submittal review process, because the technical issues were still unclear and/or critical enough for the commissioning professional to be concerned about the ability of the new systems to meet the owner’s project requirements.

This was a legitimate entry for the risk register, and the mitigation strategy was to compel the design team to address the commissioning comments to the satisfaction of the owner. The risk register, typically only used by the senior project management team, raised the concern to a level high enough to result in the desired actions. 

Commissioning professionals should ask if there are risk registers on their projects, as risk registers could be another tool in their project team motivation toolboxes.