No. 9 in my Top 10 Elements of Commissioning list is interpersonal skills. This springboards from last month’s No. 10, which was the importance of using third-party commissioning professionals. When a third party is introduced to a design and construction team, how that professional comports him/herself will influence the success of the commissioning process.
I have always advocated for a collaborative team approach to facilitating commissioning, with the commissioning professional leading the owner, design team, and construction team through the commissioning process.
In order to represent owners' interests, commissioning professionals must take time to understand an owner’s priorities and operational expectations in order to document the owner’s project requirements (OPR). Respect for the owner’s ideas and interests is critical, even if the third-party professional believes he or she is misguided. Upon earning trust in the relationship, the commissioning professional can help educate the owner about pertinent technical issues affecting the project, allowing the owner to make well-informed decisions.
In addition, the commissioning professional has a special responsibility to get to know the personnel who will ultimately be operating the new systems. If the third-party professional makes a point of understanding the operating engineers' commitments, capabilities, and limitations during design and construction, the testing and training phase of the project can be tailored to a set of particular needs.
With the design team, the commissioning professional needs to take the initiative in developing a non-competitive team spirit by showing respect for the knowledge, ability, and work performed by the designers.
During construction, it's important that all contractors and subcontractors understand the commissioning process. The third-party commissioning professional should be able to explain it as a means for helping contractors coordinate their efforts, be recognized for excellent performance, and complete the project on time. This, too, requires respect for the contractors and the critical work they need to do.
Of course, no project or project team is perfect, and when the work does not appear to conform to the OPR, the third-party professional is in a unique position to evaluate why and which team members may be responsible. The commissioning professional should be able to explain clearly and logically why certain team members are deemed responsible for rectifying a nonconformance issue. If there are disagreements with this position, the commissioning professional needs to listen, because there may be things that occurred or directions that were given (and not shared with the commissioning team) that need to be considered.
The commissioning professional should be firm but fair with the project team when representing owners' interests, as the design and construction team are ultimately responsible for achieving the OPR criteria. However, the commissioning professional can facilitate the process with an overarching attitude that commissioning is beneficial to all project team members.
The aforementioned collaborative method has always been my approach, and it has worked well for more than 25 years. However, in the course of those same years, I have encountered owners who prefer a more confrontational attitude from their commissioning professionals. These owners are looking for someone to serve as an enforcer and not as a team member. Their expectation is that the commissioning professional will find everything that is wrong with the project, make the design and construction team fix it, and verify the systems meet the OPR criteria.
Clearly, the "third party professional as an enforcer" role is one approach to the commissioning process. When soliciting commissioning services, the building owner needs to understand the difference between that standpoint and the benefits of true collaboration when deciding what best fits the owner’s culture and expectations. This is typically not clear in requests for proposals, and interviews are the best way to understand each short-listed firm’s approach to interpersonal interactions with the project team.