Adapting to Process Improvements: Commissioning for Integrated Project Delivery

Johnathan Woodside, P.E., CxA, C.E.M., LEED AP (O+M)

Johnathan Woodside, P.E., CxA, C.E.M., LEED AP (O+M)

With property developers seeking to expedite construction timelines, and supply chain issues further plaguing the creation of the built environment, we have seen a significant shift away from the traditional design-bid-build project delivery model. Now, Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is taking hold, requiring more collaboration from the get-go to optimize efficiency.

However, as IPD teams work concurrently towards continuous deliverable dates for smaller, permittable packages, commissioning team members, such as myself, struggle to review and verify that all systems are planned, designed, installed, tested and operated to meet the Owner’s Project Requirements due to the evolving scope as the design changes. Keep reading to learn about my best practices for involving commissioning professionals on your IPD project.

The Transition to Integrated Project Delivery

Frustrated with the inefficient and sometimes adversarial nature of construction, owners have experimented with a project delivery approach that emphasizes collaboration among key project partners – architects, engineers, general contractor, key specialty trades and more. By increasing collaboration, they hope to expedite timelines, utilize lean construction, prevent litigation and share the project savings as profit among the team.

As part of an IPD project, the owner has all parties involved sign one contract, so each member of the project team puts at risk their portion of the profit into a ‘profit pool’ when project goals are met, the team together shares in the risk and reward- which promotes better collaboration and overall team communication and yields better project outcomes. This requires proactive involvement from everyone, instead of requiring the owner to be the middleman between the design team and the contractor.

Not Without Challenges

When different entities come together to form a singular team, there’s less structure regarding individual responsibilities. The lines between various tasks can quickly become blurred and, with less structure, each entity is capable of performing many of the tasks that might fall to another party. For example, if a designer is having difficulty meeting design deadlines, a contractor could volunteer to take a portion of the work, thereby mixing responsibilities and even deliverables. However, since there are fewer ‘hard and fast’ rules and more flexibility, lines between responsibilities can become blurred, making it easy to step into someone else’s territory. For commissioning agents, this means that the contractor has just as much to say in commissioning process as we do, making it essential to protect the quality of commissioning activities.

Additionally, the profit each entity takes home from an Integrated Project Delivery project is proportional to their scope and fee, which incentivizes all members of the project team to do as much work as possible, as efficiently as possible. As mentioned, it’s easy to swim in someone else’s lane, so it’s important that each members of the team recognizing their strengths lie and are courteous to others.

The New Role of Commissioning Agents

Just as IPD has changed the way project teams interact, it has also enhanced the role of commissioning agents and necessitated additional attention be given to commissioning activities.  While a typical project agreement makes our job easier by indicating defined specifications and the scope of work, our agreement on an IPD project is no longer solely with the owner, but with all members of the project team, meaning our specifications now apply to us just as much as they apply to the contractor. While this could be seen as a complication, luckily there are best practices that can be applied to help the commissioning process be successful.

  • Clearly Define Commissioning Roles & Responsibilities: First, it’s imperative to clearly define commissioning roles and responsibilities on the project. Ask yourself and the team, “What tasks are considered commissioning, and who will conduct each part of the commissioning process?” Agreement on clearly defined roles and responsibilities will help manage expectations.
  • Overcommunicate: The second key to success is overcommunication. While this often leads to a lot of emails and additional meetings, it’s necessary to keep the entire design team in the loop. Organize your inbox and develop project email protocols and remember to copy everyone you think is appropriate. Overcommunication also means using direct communication when it’s needed and instead of waiting for a scheduled meeting. If you’re the commission professional, make sure everyone on the team understands your role so that you’re not left out of planning meetings and won’t miss subsequent deadlines.
  • Be Proactive: Be proactive during both the planning and design processes. If commissioning is involved early in the processes, commissioning’s role can be considered at the same time as everyone else, leading to improved coordination. Additionally, there’s also a tendency on IPD projects to release multiple smaller design packages over a longer duration to keep the construction effort moving, meaning there are more design reviews, comments and resolutions being made, even as work is taking place. It’s important to establish which packages the commissioning team will review early on, and build in intermittent time for additional reviews.
  • Pay Attention to Day-to-Day Activities: Fourth and finally, the commissioning team should pay direct attention to the day-to-day activities. On IPD projects, it’s likely that they are more involved with the day-to-day activity scheduling and progress than normal, so coordinating activity is essential.

Stepping Into the Future

Integrated Project Delivery has already taken a strong hold in the way developers and clients conduct business. It’s important to make sure the commissioning team maintains an effective role throughout the project, maximizing their contributions and value. Establishing roles and responsibilities early, overcommunicating with project partners, being proactive during the planning and design processes and paying close attention to day-to-day activities will create a strong foundation for successfully commissioning an IPD project and bringing the owner’s vision to life.