Cx: More On Responsible Parties
It’s less about placing blame than finding the right person to fix the problem.
Continuing last month’s topic of commissioning action lists (a.k.a. master issues logs, a.k.a. corrective action lists), I would like to focus on the items in those documents that deal with construction phase or acceptance testing “deficiencies.”
Purely speaking, a deficiency is some aspect of the system installation, operation, or performance that does not meet the contract requirements and/or does not achieve the owner’s project requirements.
One of the primary purposes of a commissioning action list is to provide a platform for documenting and tracking the resolution of such anomalies. However, there are varying types of apparent deficiencies and different ways of addressing them.
If there are different interpretations of what the specification requires (particularly between the commissioning professional and the contractor), there may or may not be anything wrong with the system operation. The commissioning action list is the vehicle through which the commissioning professional engages the designer in order to determine the true design intent. This will be a commissioning action list item with responsibility assigned to the designer. Just because the action is assigned to the designer does not mean the designer has done anything wrong; it simply means that the designer needs to take action to clarify the design intent.
This scenario could be considered a commissioning request for information (RFI). In fact, early in the evolution of building systems commissioning (more than 20 years ago), we tried using the contractor’s well-established RFI process to solicit such clarifications. We figured it would be easier to use an existing process than to introduce new paperwork to the construction project. However, because the commissioning professional was not an official subcontractor, the general contractor was unwilling to let us participate in their RFI program. That was understandable from the contractor’s workload perspective; if we created RFIs in their system, the contractor would be saddled with handling and tracking an unpredictable number of additional RFIs.
Therefore, we have been using the commissioning action list for construction phase design intent clarification ever since.
Many system performance deficiencies are the result of incomplete or uncoordinated integration of multiple subcontractors’ work, equipment, and systems. Often in this case, especially if there was no controls integration meeting early in construction, the problems are the result of a misunderstanding regarding which subcontractor and/or equipment supplier is responsible for which integration activities. When the commissioning professional is on site testing a system and runs into an integration issue, the subcontractors present for testing (often only the controls contractor) are very willing to explain how it was some other subcontractor that messed up.
Although it may be obvious which integration element is missing or improperly executed, the commissioning professional is not necessarily privy to which subcontractor (if any) was assigned responsibility for that element. Most design documents are deliberately mute about assigning responsibility for the specified work. That has traditionally been the general contractor’s prerogative, and designers are chastised if they dictate “means and methods” in the design specifications.
The commissioning professional cannot rely on one subcontractor to know or accurately communicate another subcontractor’s responsibilities. Therefore, these coordination/integration commissioning action list items need to be assigned to the general contractor or construction manager. That does not necessarily mean the general contractor has done anything wrong. It simply means that one of the subcontractors may have, and it is up to the general contractor to identify that subcontractor and direct them to correct the deficiency.
When the commissioning professional can confidently determine the most likely root cause of a deficiency and understands which subcontractor firm or design firm is responsible, then the commissioning action list item will be assigned directly to that party for resolution.
Many people expect that all action list items fall into this category, but, as described above, that is not actually the case. This is one reason I prefer the term “action list” instead of “deficiency list.” In a deficiency list, it may be a stigma to be named a responsible party. In an action list, not so much. ES