Sorting responsibilities early creates a better future for everyone on the team.

I closed last month’s column (August 2008) with a recommendation that the general contractor on any project, but especially on complex projects, invest time at the beginning of construction to carefully understand the integrated nature of the building under construction. Once the general contractor appreciates how each subcontractor’s work needs to be coordinated with other subcontractors, one of the best planning and management tools the general contractor can prepare is a roles and responsibilities matrix.

Developing The Matrix

One format for such a matrix would be to have subcontractors listed in columns of the matrix and all of the different system interfaces on individual rows of the matrix. Everywhere that one system (HVAC, lighting controls, security, building envelope, fire alarm, etc.) communicates with, touches, or overlaps with another system, is considered an interface. These could be physical interfaces (e.g., security hardware installed on building envelope components) or software interfaces (e.g., a lighting control occupancy sensor signal sent to the HVAC system controller).
The cell at the intersection of one interface and one subcontractor would include that subcontractor’s responsibility for that interface. Reading across the row for each interface would be a quick way of confirming that no two subcontractors are assigned the same responsibility and, hopefully, of verifying that all activities required for a complete and functioning interface have been assigned.
The trick, of course, is to understand everything that needs to be done for the interface to be successful. I believe that the design team is responsible for defining all of the details required for system interfaces, but (as discussed on last month’s column) the designers do not typically get involved in specifying who is responsible for what, other than the general contractor being responsible for everything. In multiple-prime contracts, however, it is imperative that the design team prepares the roles and responsibilities matrix before bidding the project.

Enter The Commissioning Professional

This is one place where the commissioning professional can be of great assistance. Starting in the design phase, the commissioning professional should review the design documents in order to understand what the system interfaces are intended to be and exactly how the design team wants them to work. If that is not clear to the commissioning professional, it will not be clear to the general contractor. The commissioning professional should continuously challenge the design team to be as clear and unambiguous as possible about integrated systems, because there are very few “industry standards” upon which the contractors can fall back when interpreting integrated systems designs.

As an aside, if the design team intends to leave systems integration up to the contractor, that fact should be stated along with a performance specification and a process by which the contractor’s D-B integration is to be evaluated and accepted.

If the design documents are clear about what integration tasks need to be performed by the construction team, the commissioning professional can assist the general contractor in identifying the key tasks to include in a matrix. Then the general contractor can consider which subcontractors would be best suited for which activities and create the roles and responsibilities matrix before shop drawings are prepared and equipment is ordered. This should go a long way toward helping to ensure that not only will all of the system components be installed on time but that the systems will be operational on schedule.

Expediting The Commissioning Process

A roles and responsibilities matrix can help expedite the end-of-construction commissioning process as well. If there is a problem identified through FPT, the roles and responsibilities matrix can help the general contractor identify which subcontractor to call first for troubleshooting the problem.

In many cases, I have found that all HVAC system deficiencies discovered during commissioning testing have been assumed by the general contractor to be the “fault” of the controls contractor. Although many HVAC system issues are due to controls programming, “many” is certainly not “all.” It is too easy for the general contractor to simply pass corrective action notices on to the controls contractor without thinking that there might be other options. This can result in unnecessary time spent by everyone on the commissioning team processing and responding to these erroneous assignments of responsibility, only to have the issue dropped in the general contractor’s lap again when the controls contractor denies responsibility.

If the general contractor has a roles and responsibilities matrix to which all of the subcontractors have agreed, commissioning progress can be expedited by not having to stop and discuss who needs to do what. If the commissioning professional takes an active role in assigning responsibility for deficiencies discovered during FPT, the roles and responsibilities matrix would be an excellent document to reference instead of having to comb through pages of specifications or calling the general contractor every time a not-so-obvious assignment needs to be made.

In summary, early development of a roles and responsibilities matrix is an investment in future time savings and schedule adherence for the general contractor and the entire project team.ES