The commissioning mentality: Aim to exceed expectations

Director of engineering firm Kuijpers, Paul Joosten, discusses the industry's main goals when commissioning in comparison to his vision for qualification and validation for pleasantly surprised customers

I recently saw an interesting article on LinkedIn: 'Wanted: a construction project with commissioning where there is proof that it has actually gone well.' The appeal was made following a fairly negative column about the construction industry in the Dutch newspaper called 'de Volkskrant'. The most important theme: promises made are often almost worthless. The column in question and the more or less desperate LinkedIn appeal led to a fascinating exchange of ideas because, happily, there are still plenty of satisfied customers. I still found the nature of the request revealing.

In a world in which, on the one hand, the Quality Assurance Act, saving energy, integrated contracts and failure costs are important issues and, on the other hand, as highlighted in the column, too much still goes wrong, you would be forgiven for forgetting how many great projects have indeed been delivered.

Organisations also run out of time if the construction schedule fails to take commissioning sufficiently into account

That online discussion resulted in an invite to give a presentation in February for the Dutch Building Commissioning Association about my vision of commissioning. For some time now that has been a relevant theme on many agendas in the construction and building services sector. It would seem that everyone needs a proper quality control process not only to specify, verify and document agreed performance, but above all to guarantee it as well.

Many colleagues regard commissioning as an excellent method for reducing risks precisely when the focus is on delivering a safe and healthy building, enhancing energy performance, reducing costs and improving system documentation. Although that is indeed the case, in my view, that should not be the main motivation.

Pleasantly surprised

Well over two and a half years ago I urged our sector to make quality the number one priority. Anyone who rereads that blog will understand that my main reason for working on commissioning is not 'a working installation at the agreed location' or 'avoiding failure costs'. What is much more important is the 'WOW factor'. In other words, being able to provide a solution which leads to pleasantly surprised customers and much more positive columns.

It is time to specify the commissioning process ourselves so that we can also verify it

Commissioning is a resource which you can use to demonstrate that expectations have been fulfilled, but it also offers the possibility of then exceeding them. That starts by determining when a customer is satisfied. "You want a good atmosphere and a feeling of comfort... but when do you consider a space to be comfortable?" This is a perturbing question that points out a common oversight. That is exactly what we first put on paper by specifying, verifying, documenting and guaranteeing the customer's wishes. Only then do we move on to the content-related technical specifications for how we are going to implement those wishes.

In the eye of the beholder

In practice, there is still a great deal that needs to be done in order to achieve in the field of customer satisfaction. For example, it is still the case that very little work is being done on commissioning when preparing a project. When in fact, the question is whether the design meets the wishes and actually works? Organisations also run out of time if the construction schedule fails to take commissioning sufficiently into account when the installation is being made ready for operations.

The two most questionable arguments I have ever heard are, "I have not had time to check everything" or - even worse - "the customer has not paid for commissioning". Both are complete deal-breakers! Imagine that you go to pick up a new car from the garage and the salesperson says, "Oh, by the way, we haven't had time to check your brakes. But I see you haven't paid for that either". It's unthinkable.

In our sector, a customer should be able to have confidence in our perception of quality and responsibility, not because it is laid down on paper, but because we want to do things properly. Incidentally, I find myself having to alert our principals to their role in this respect. In the fifteen years that I have worked in this sector, I have hardly ever come across principals who said, "I will award the job to someone who does what he or she promises." So who do they award it to? To the one who submits the cheapest tender of course. A practice that is commonly called market-driven.

Let us all embrace Dutch ISSO publication 107 Completion procedure for air conditioning systems and the transfer to management

The key question remains, how do we work together to make this design manageable and specific? And at which level will we then implement commissioning in the preparation phase, execution phase, delivery and maintenance or service period of a project? How detailed should we record things and how much insight or otherwise does a customer need? Different parties give different answers to those questions. A clear guideline would, therefore, be a good idea so that we can, at least, all start speaking the same language.

It is time to specify the commissioning process ourselves so that we can also verify it. Dutch ISSO publication 107 'Completion procedure for air conditioning systems and the transfer to management', is incidentally a good start. Let us all embrace it.

Top 10 basic tips

  1. Start commissioning from day 1 (Is that easier said than done? Yes it is)
  2. Start with a commissioning plan
  3. Risk-based work
  4. Discuss what you are doing with your customer
  5. Do everything (100%), but pay attention to the level of development (lean and mean).
  6. Record what you do and make it reproducible
  7. Make commissioning accessible for the people who have to do it (for example by ensuring that it links up with the implementation process)
  8. Work in an integral way
  9. Appoint a responsible initiator
  10. Standardise your plans and testing methods

The most important tip is still the same: make quality your number one priority and help each other to create a sector and a methodology we can be proud of.