Let's say you're a building owner/operator and just returned from a seminar about commissioning and how great it is. You're gung ho and ready to start; commissioning is going to be the answer to all of your problems. Now what do you do?

Many owners, especially these days when everyone is overextended and "too busy," will want to go out right away and hire someone to do commissioning for them. Without giving that someone, presumably a third-party commissioning professional, clear direction regarding what you expect the commissioning process to be and what you hope to benefit from it, this will almost certainly be a bad experience for all involved.

The Master Plan

In a way, hiring commissioning services needs to be handled similarly to the commissioning process itself. That is, the owner needs to define the intent of commissioning prior to soliciting proposals from providers. Without a clear and detailed scope-of-work statement, the owner will have no reason to expect "apples and apples" in the competing proposals received.

Therefore, instead of hiring someone to "do it" for you, there needs to be an in-house investment of time and program definition. If you are a large institution or facility which has multiple buildings and are constantly building or renovating, you'll want to develop a master commissioning plan which can be applied and customized to any future project.

Without such a plan, commissioning is apt to be different from one project to the next, especially if you hire different commissioning providers. The master plan needs to be a collaborative effort between (at least) the capital projects people, the facilities operations and maintenance people, and perhaps your contracting/financial people.

The master plan will define how commissioning is to be defined and performed at your institution. Your organization, policies, procedures, project delivery methods, and politics are all unique to your institution. The master plan will define when commissioning will start, who will be on the commissioning team, what tasks and milestones are involved in the process, who on the team will be responsible for each task, and how all of the commissioning activities fit into your normal project delivery method(s).

Inviting A Third-Party Guest

If your master plan includes a third-party commissioning consultant, then this person/firm's roles and responsibilities need to be clearly defined in the plan. Only once you have a master plan in place, are you ready to solicit proposals from these third-party consultants for implementing the plan on a specific design and construction project.

Just as with a design intent document (DID), the commissioning master plan needs to quantify what you expect from your commissioning consultants. Simply stating, "All building systems shall be commissioned to ensure that they function properly at the end of construction," is not sufficient. It's the equivalent to stating, "All building occupants must be comfortable," in a DID.

You must identify exactly which building "systems" are to be commissioned and what the "boundaries" of those systems are. For example, if you want to commission your electrical system, does that mean each individual outlet and light switch is to be "commissioned," or is there some boundary (e.g., secondary switchgear, primary switchgear) beyond which you've determined the cost-benefit ratio for commissioning electrical systems is too high?

Getting Started

If you go straight to a consultant and do it their way instead, you're asking for trouble. How often do your design consultants successfully read your mind? The chances of a commissioning consultant "getting it right" for you without your detailed input will be even slimmer.

Perhaps the first thing you need to do is hire a commissioning professional to help develop a master commissioning plan. The commissioning consultants should know how to help you identify the level of detail required to get apples-and-apples commissioning from project-to-project.

This should be a relatively inexpensive investment for the consultant, but it will require some time on your part (perhaps 1-2 days' worth of the key players' time at your facility). The benefits, however, will go a long way towards your satisfaction with subsequent design and construction commissioning projects.