On particularly large projects with long (multiyear) schedules, the probability of personnel turnover on the owner’s management team is high. Therefore, the possibility of having strong proponents of commissioning leave the project midway can lead to a dilution of the owner’s commitment to the commissioning process. Without strong, consistent support for commissioning from the owner, the rest of the project team may start cutting corners, missing deadlines, and more or less ignoring the requirements of their contract with respect to commissioning.
In order to keep commissioning on track with a project whose owner’s management team is changing periodically, it is absolutely critical for the remaining commissioning proponents to be in a constant educational mode as they bring new team members up to speed on the commissioning process, why all steps are important, the benefits of commissioning in general, the particular benefits accrued so far to the job in question, and the reason why fully executing the commissioning plan is good for the project. Without this constant input, the owner’s representatives may see commissioning as an easy place to cut costs.
Losing Team EmbersAs an example, we’re currently in the midst of a large commissioning project that we were awarded over three years ago. During the commissioning consultant selection process, the owner had a team dedicated to defining commissioning for the project and selecting the consultant to implement their plan. The team that conducted the interviews consisted of approximately five people who were enthusiastic believers in commissioning and who were in positions of authority on the project team. Not one of those interviewers is currently employed by the owner, much less involved in the project being commissioned.
As the project has been handed from one person to the next, an understanding of and enthusiasm for commissioning has had to be kindled in each new representative for the owner. The departing representatives have provided what support they can when passing the torch, but that’s a one-time endorsement. Once the new person gets on the job, s/he is bombarded with everyone’s opinions, including contractors who consider commissioning to be a painful burden and accountants who see the cash flowing out of the project without realizing the financial benefits of commissioning.
We have learned, as the last of the original proponents have departed into the sunset, that it’s now up to us, the commissioning consultants, to “sell” commissioning to the incoming project manager. We’re well-prepared and happy to do this, but there is a perceived conflict of interest on our part. Therefore, having the commissioning consultants as the sole proponents of the process is not necessarily enough.
Fanning the FlameWhat I believe needs to be done in anticipation of this scenario on long-term projects is the ongoing documentation of ‘benefits’ realized due to the commissioning process, starting at the beginning of the project. I presented ideas on how to identify and quantify those benefits in last October’s column. In that column, I suggested that tracking of benefits would probably be outside of the contracted scope of work for a particular project – used primarily as “marketing” data for future work. However, given the propensity for owner staff turnover on large projects, we can make a point that such tracking of benefits should be part of the commissioning consultant’s contracted scope of services.
We assume that during contract and scope negotiations, the owner’s representatives are extremely enthusiastic about commissioning and they want to see that it survives through to its successful completion. We can present the case that in order to help ensure that commissioning’s longevity matches project longevity, continuous tracking and reporting of benefits is a critical part of the process. Therefore, it needs to be part of the consultant’s compensated scope of services. I can just about guarantee that the cost of the consultant’s time documenting the benefits will be infinitesimal compared with the financial results of the benefits analysis.