One of the fundamental goals of commissioning is to verify that all systems perform in accordance with their design intent and in accordance with the contract drawings and specifications. Therefore, it follows that commissioning is complete when all systems are demonstrated to perform properly.

I don't think there are many people in this industry that would disagree with this ideal definition of "commissioning completion," but there are a number of people who act as if commissioning is complete when the FPT is finished. These may be the same people who see commissioning as just another item to mark off of their project "to do" list - those who are more focused on the actions of commissioning than on the desired end result.

FPT's and punchlists

This attitude can be exhibited by anyone on the commissioning team, from the owner to the contractors to the commissioning professionals themselves. One symptom occurs when the FPT has been completed but attention to correcting deficiencies and operational anomalies found during testing is minimal. Somehow, the team members are satisfied that their requirement to participate in FPT has been met.

The outstanding action items resulting from the tests are often treated as just another set of punchlist items. This is understandable if successfully passing the FPTs is not a prerequisite for substantial completion of a project. The proper operational performance of the building systems becomes just as important (or just as unimportant) as the innumerable instances of chipped paint, dirty ceiling tiles, and imperfect drywall seams.

I'm not looking to change the world with respect to the traditional punchlist process, but I do see an opportunity for the project team's performance to be measured with respect to satisfactorily addressing commissioning action items in a timely fashion. With a metric in place and defined up front, could it be possible to motivate team members to focus differently and more intensely on the system performance items?

Please note that this discussion applies only to the unfortunate (but still frequent) situation where FPTs do not pass the first time. Motivating the project team to achieve 100% successful testing has received and continues to receive a fair amount of attention, but it is not the topic of this column.

The performance metric: A modest proposal

Because the desired outcome is for commissioning action items to be resolved as quickly as possible, we need a time component to the performance metric. The quantity of deficiencies on the action list (the result of not passing the functional tests the first time) is one thing, but the length of time that each deficiency sits on the list is also very important. The time spent by the commissioning professional tracking and dealing with action items is excessive when the list grows instead of shrinks towards construction completion. Therefore, the duration of each action item's "open" status has a direct impact on the cost of commissioning.

With electronic action list databases with "Open Date" and "Closed Date" fields, it should be relatively easy to maintain a running tally of "Deficiency Days." For example, if there are five deficiencies that have been open 10 days, two deficiencies that have been open 20 days, and one deficiency that has been open 100 days, the total project "Deficiency Days" would be:

(5 x 10) + (2 x 20) + (1 x 100) = 190 deficiency days.

Before incorporating positive or negative motivators into project contracts, we'd need to collect data in order to benchmark commissioned construction projects. For benchmarking purposes, the deficiency-day metric would need to be normalized in same way, perhaps by project cost, building size, or project duration. Once we have a sense for the current situation, project team members - construction managers, contractors, commissioning professionals, etc., - could use their past project metrics to differentiate themselves from others when competing for future work.

With a substantial amount of benchmarking information, it might be possible to write contracts that include awards for achieving low (below a pre-determined benchmark) deficiency-day metrics and/or penalties for having high (above the benchmark) deficiency-day metrics.

The actual metric used is less important than the end result we are trying to achieve: timely realization of the building systems performance goals for a project. I believe that owners who take this goal seriously need new tools and approaches for holding their project teams accountable and preventing the all-too-frequent "projects that just never end."