The Importance of Communication During the Commissioning Process

Two workers in hard hats discussing something on a laptop

As a commissioning authority, it’s my responsibility to ensure that building systems perform interactively according to the owner’s functional, operational and performance requirements. A lot of technical skills are embedded in that responsibility, but there’s a soft skill that’s just as important to the commissioning process: communication.

Set expectations and explain your role. Commissioning kickoff meetings are convened in the design and construction phase with a representative from each party present. I use this opportunity to explain what I’ll need from the team throughout construction and what my standards for communication are. I also explain what exactly I’ll be doing as a commissioning authority and that I want to be a resource, not a burden, to the team.

Use email effectively

You’d think email would make it easy for a team to maintain communication. Not so! Commissioning is not always front and center on the minds of project managers, but they are gatekeepers of incoming and outgoing communications. On more than one occasion, emails containing important information related to commissioning have been sent back and forth between the design team and project managers without including the commissioning authority. Neglecting to include commissioning in the discussions reduces the value to the owner, erodes the value of the commissioning process, and can result in missed opportunities.

For example, I arrived on a site one day and found two large exhaust fans already installed – incorrectly. Forcing the fans to work as installed would cause long-term loss in operational performance and frustrating adjustments to the fan variable frequency drives. The project managers and design team insisted their installation was adequate. If I had been alerted that fans were going to be installed ahead of time, this problem and altercation would have been avoided.

Teams frequently use electronic project information management resources to track and maintain documentation. This works especially well for reviewing the bulk of submittals, RFIs, and drawings, but it can’t replace a time-sensitive email or courtesy call to the commissioning authority alerting them of early mechanical equipment installations or air handler equipment start-ups.

Be present and connect

While the commissioning authority should expect adequate email and other communication from other team members, ultimately it’s his or her responsibility to have a finger on the pulse of the project and communicate directly with project managers throughout the construction process. I accomplish this by making friendly phone calls or emails, being an active participant in construction meetings, and walking the site to meet the installers on whom I’ll rely to resolve deficiencies. Earning the trust and respect of these hard-working individuals takes time. Showing interest in their work, providing positive feedback on exceptional installations, and giving firm handshakes with eye contact build rapport that supports camaraderie and willingness to work together. The occasional box of doughnuts for a job site never hurts either.

On-site conversations

As piping, duct-work, and mechanical equipment get installed, commissioning authorities spend more time on site. Site visits are good times to reconnect with the installers, check on their installation schedules, and get their thoughts on how the project’s going. I also like to have separate and informal conversations with the mechanical and construction project managers. I use this time to talk about the equipment I verified, deficiencies discovered and how they should be resolved, as well as the formal site visit documentation I will provide.

When communication in the commissioning process works well, it’s a team effort. Owners, project managers, installers, and commissioning authorities work together to ensure that the value of the commissioning process is realized, achieved, and translated into a building that performs.