Minimize Cost, Frustration By Exceeding Each Project's Phase-by-phase Expectations
Clearly defining phase-by-phase expectations can help minimize cost and frustration on a project.
Much has been written about systems’ readiness for functional performance testing at the end of construction, and pre-functional checklists have become common elements of the commissioning process. For more than 20 years, they’ve improved the likelihood that systems are truly ready for testing when the commissioning professional arrives to test them. This often makes the most efficient use of everyone’s time and resources.
With the same interest in efficiency and cost-effectiveness, this column focuses on design review readiness. Full-service commissioning involves at least one design review prior to bidding and construction. The most comprehensive commissioning scopes involve multiple design reviews, starting at the beginning of the design phase.
Commissioning professionals have a good sense for industry expectations at the schematic design (SD), design development (DD), and construction documents (CD) phases. However, design team deliverables at each of these phases vary significantly from project to project. To make the most efficient use of everyone’s design phase time and, thus, to minimize cost and frustration, it would be very helpful to clarify expectations on a phase-by-phase basis for each project. What matters most is an understanding of what the design team believes has been completed and customized to the project requirements each time drawings and specifications are submitted for review.
There have been countless times when commissioning professionals have invested hours into reviewing drawings and specifications and then documenting their comments only to have the design team respond to some or most of the comments with something like this, “Not customized for project yet. Will be completed in a later phase.” The time spent by both the commissioning professionals and the designers in such fruitless review cycles brings little to no value to the project or its owner.
Although a quick perusal of some drawings will make it very clear that things like piping or ductwork plans, lighting layouts, electrical one-line diagrams, and mechanical room plans and sections are not complete yet, the following are three areas that are not so obvious regarding their customization for the project at hand. This is because these design elements are often started from generic templates, which may appear, at first, to be complete documents.
Full specification sections look complete when they are submitted as a package. It’s only after reading at least a little into each of them that the commissioning professional will realize that some or all of the sections are still generic with lots of “[choices for the designer]” elements yet to be customized.
Clearly, a tabular equipment schedule with headers but no contents filled in is not complete. However, sometimes schedules are populated with generic (or leftover) equipment names and data not related to the current project.
Sequences of Operation
Similar to equipment schedules, the absence of control sequences of operation is a clear indicator of them not being ready for review. On the other hand, the inclusion of detailed sequences of operation that are either the design engineers’ standard template for similar systems or carry-overs from a previous project will result in significant wasted design review time.
Without it being threatening or shaming in any way, I recommend that the commissioning professional reach out to the designer before starting each review to understand what level of completeness the designers believe the submission to be. The designers should be able to articulate what they believe is ready for a meaningful commissioning review regardless of what official phase name is given to the submission. This could save numerous hours by the commissioning professional documenting incompleteness or inappropriate designs of which the design team is already fully aware.
If the commissioning professional is concerned, on behalf of the project, that certain design elements have not been completed yet, that is a legitimate design review comment; however, determining that fact directly from the designers will take practically no time compared to what it would take to comb through the documents to figure it out. The commissioning professional needs to ask the question in a way that persuades the designers it is in the designers’ best interest to be honest about the design status. Otherwise, the designer could be inundated with meaningless commissioning review comments that will require their time to answer.
Circling back to what we do for end-of-construction systems readiness for testing, i.e., pre-functional checklists, I wonder if we should have design review readiness checklists?