Last month, this column introduced the concept of an “excessively long” commissioning action list (CAL). Once functional performance testing begins, the CAL (which could also be named a variety of other things) is the tool that commissioning professionals use to document and track resolution of deficiencies with, questions about, and/or differing opinions regarding system operation. A long CAL is bad for everyone on the project team, as detailed in my September 2014 column. This month, I want to begin exploring the multiple reasons why the CAL might get out of hand, who might be responsible, and what the commissioning professional might do about it.
Unrealistic Construction Schedule
An unrealistic construction schedule may be partially the owner’s responsibility for placing unrealistic time constraints on the contractors, and partially the contractors’ responsibility for agreeing to those constraints in order to win the project. On the other hand, an unrealistic construction schedule may solely be the contractors’ responsibility if they fail to plan and manage the project effectively. In very few cases are forces outside of either the owner’s or contractor’s control (weather, labor strikes, etc.) the cause for compressed construction schedules.
An unrealistic construction schedule results in pressure on the commissioning professional (from both the contractors and the owner) to begin functional performance testing before the systems are complete, balanced, and/or fully checked out by the contractors. The commissioning professional cannot dictate the schedule, but the commissioning professional can be an active voice of reason about what can be expected if there is not enough time scheduled at the end of construction for startup, controls completion, quality control, balancing, and functional performance testing to be performed in the proper order.
The commissioning professional’s schedule feedback is most effective early in the construction phase when it is easiest to adjust the schedule. However, it is often neither heard nor heeded at that point because most project team members are not focused on the end of construction like the commissioning professional is.
If installation, startup, and balancing continue to be scheduled right up to the substantial completion date, the commissioning professional should have a candid discussion with the owner about the risks of premature functional performance testing. As noted in last month’s column, this will likely result in an excessively long CAL and all of the time and expense inherent to that. Some owners might prefer to put off testing until after substantial completion, but other owners will not have that option because of facility access and operations issues. The commissioning professional needs to have this discussion with the owner early enough in the project to allow the owner time to work with the contractor and, perhaps, the building occupants to work out a manageable solution.
Owner’s Ambigous Project Requirements
If there is confusion during functional performance testing about what is and is not acceptable, there will be excessive CAL items dedicated to documenting the various points of view. These are particularly challenging issues to resolve because it is the responsibility of the entire project team and the owner to meet and decide on the acceptance criteria.
The commissioning professional can help avoid this situation by advocating for the documentation of objective acceptance criteria from the very beginning of the project. This starts with a clear Owner’s Project Requirements document, moves into clearly defined control sequences and set points in the design documents, and culminates in the commissioning professional developing project-specific test procedures with clear pass/fail acceptance criteria for each test step.