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Why commission a construction project?

What are the risks associated with my project? How can I save money on this project? Where do my projects typically stall or have issues that cost me money? How can this process be more efficient? How do I make sure that my customer gets the most out of this project so that I can keep (or develop) a solid reputation with them (and ultimately get more work)?

The answer is construction project commissioning. Let me explain.

Every endeavor has risks of some kind and many would argue that the more worthwhile a task is, the more difficult it is.  Regardless of your opinion of the previous statement, thinking about these risks and preparing to address them in advance is crucial in order to achieve the highest level of success.  Project level commissioning is accomplished by having a plan and a system of checks and balances in place during the design, construction and post construction stages of a project. In doing this work, complications are inherently reduced by ensuring that all activities are completed as the project progresses.

The simplest example of this is typically accomplished by way of a check sheet system which lists critical activities.  When an installer utilizes this system, there is documented proof that activities were completed which makes tracking tasks much simpler and removes guess work concerning “What have we already done?”  This is piece of mind for anyone who is paying the bill.

Humans are only Human

Think of it this way; when you take your car to the mechanic for an inspection, do you think they would remember to check every component necessary without a check sheet detailing these components or points?  Of course not. Some things would be missed, and there would likely be some overlap causing reduced efficiency.  This causes wasted time or eventually a break down on the side of the road.

People forget things, go for coffee, stop working for the weekend, make mistakes and get distracted all the time.  This is human nature which can be a significant and costly problem… especially if something critical is missed and inadvertently (or worse intentionally) covered up along the way.  Now relate this analogy to a typical construction project, HVAC system/component or industrial component/process.

Several parties are often required to ensure that a system or component is installed and operating correctly, so how can all of these activities be completed reliably without some kind of verification process?  Do you already have a process in place for quality assurance? Is this process sufficient, or is a more detailed process necessary?  How thorough is it?  This is why a commissioning authority should be engaged to measure and track these tasks, ultimately verifying the outcome.

Who paved over my hammer?

Saving time and money in a big project is a complicated topic in itself so consider this; how many different ways can a project have problems or go wrong?  Where are the potential pitfalls, uncertainties and weak points? How does one track  progress to ensure that resources are being used effectively?

Each contractor does their own quality assurance at different levels.  These levels range from a well documented and organized commissioning system, to “looks okay to me boys.” To get the best results, it is essential to ensure that all parties have an action plan, track their work consistently and provide supporting documentation throughout the process. Since many activities depend on previous activities (potential bottle neck activities), if regular inspections don’t occur, progress can stall or costly corrections may be necessary.

A third party commissioning agent provides a system that coordinates activities and removes as many bottlenecks as possible, helping keep the project on time and on budget.

How does an owner know that everything is working properly?

This brings us to the last and arguably the most important question. No matter what role you are in consider, how do I make sure that my customer gets the most out of this project so that I can keep (or develop) a solid reputation with them? When you really consider this question, you realize that the term “customer” could apply to several parties depending on your role in the project.  Be it your operations staff, your boss, the company that you work for or the party that contracted you to complete the work.  In any case, the answer usually comes back to quality of work.

During construction, a solid tracking system is a great tool for demonstrating quality but also for providing piece of mind not only to the owner, but to the general contractor and even individual trades as well.

When it comes to commissioning small or simple projects, if you are simply looking for a tracking system, this can often be spit out by a computer program and tracked by a summer student. In the industry this is often referred to as “commissioning light” and is usually the resulting commodity created by hiring the lowest bidder.  It does not guarantee anything other than a paper trail.  While this is often sufficient for simple projects, to truly get the most out of project commissioning, equipment and systems must be put through their paces by testing and verifying not only the equipment, but also the programming that controls these components and systems.

The methods for accomplishing this must then be documented , demonstrated and communicated to those who will be doing this work and will benefit most from this work… namely the operators.  Such a role requires expertise in the commissioning process, knowledge of testing methodologies, strong communication abilities and optimally hands-on experience with the equipment in question.

In my experience the only way to ensure quality is to track tasks, verify compliance, ensure that the outcome meets the needs of the customer and train those that will operate the system once it’s complete.  Even by performing all of these tasks, there is still potential for error because human beings are only human.

While the task of commissioning a large project may sound overwhelming, it is now a necessity for true success because of the increasing complexity of systems and because of the inherent risk associated with complex projects.

But like any endeavor worth undertaking, it is worth the effort if the project is to truly be Future Proof.


This information was originally published on my initial blog here.

Shane Wolffe is currently looking to work on innovative projects in a commissioning related role. Such projects can be showcased through to demonstrate your company’s leadership in building a better world.

Projects that Shane Wolffe has led as commissioning agent:

  • Moose Jaw Multiplex, Moose Jaw SK – Fundamental Commissioning for LEED
  • Buffalo Pound Water Pumping Station North – Buffalo Pound, SK
  • City of Saskatoon Raw Water Pumping Station – Saskatoon, SK
  • Prince Albert Parkland Health Region Pineview Project – Prince Albert, SK (initial stages)
  • Prince Albert Parkland Health Region Shellbrook Hospital – Shellbrook, SK (initial stages)
  • Prince Albert Parkland Health Region Family Treatment Center – Prince Albert, SK (initial stages)
  • Meadow Lake Provincial Court House – Meadow Lake, SK – Fundamental and Best Practice Commissioning for LEED
  • Red Deer RCMP – Red Deer, AB – Fundamental and Best Practice Commissioning for LEED
  • Humboldt Health Services Redevelopment Project – Humboldt, SK
  • Irene and Leslie Dubé Centre for Mental Health, Saskatoon, SK
  • Sasktel Center (Formerly Credit Union Center), Saskatoon, SK – Retro commissioning of mechanical systems

Shane has further provided support for the following projects:

  • Co-Op Administration Building – Saskatoon SK – Initial Cx System Creation and Project Management
  • Banff Cave and Basin Welcome Facility – Banff, AB (final field inspection)
  • Saskatchewan Disease Control Lab – Regina, SK
  • Stem Cell Addition, Royal University Hospital – Saskatoon, SK
  • Spruce Grove Letter Carrier Depot – Spruce Grove, AB – Commissioning for LEED
  • Edmonton South Letter Carrier Depot – Edmonton, AB – Commissioning for LEED
  • Rona Sherwood Park – Sherwood Park, AB – Commissioning for LEED
  • Airdrie Post Office – Airdrie, AB – Commissioning for LEED


To inquire about services, please use the contact form on this page.