In a world of budget and time constraints, technological complexity, environmental, social and governmental (ESG) issues and skill shortages, it has never been more challenging to design, construct and verify high-performance buildings.
As ESG criteria become more important, actual building performance and evidence that design intent has been fulfilled will be increasingly necessary. Surveyors therefore need to understand the significance of commissioning management and of verifying buildings systems performance.
To deal with these challenges, projects can begin with the end in mind; that is, close attention can be paid as buildings are designed and constructed to the high performance outcomes required. Commissioning management is one strategy for ensuring these outcomes.
In July 2022, the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) updated its Commissioning Code M (2022): Commissioning management to ensure the commissioning is correctly executed and to take advantage of the growing availability of smart technologies that use performance data to manage building functions such as heating, cooling and ventilation.
To quote from section 9, page 25 of the code: 'commissioning is a process of assuring that a project is planned, programmed, costed, designed, installed, tested and fine-tuned, so it meets specified performance requirements'.
The term specified performance here refers to individual systems, and the operational interfaces and system interdependencies that enable a building to perform as designed. As a building is effectively a system made up of systems, their performance and interoperability is crucial because these directly affect operational carbon intensity, environmental footprint, and ESG and green building certification targets.
In my experience, there seems to be a general assumption that commissioning management starts during construction itself. However, the code requires 11 commissioning management tasks be completed during design stages 1–4 of the RIBA Plan of Work.
This reflects the fact that commissioning management at design phase can offer a high potential return on investment, because it helps identify issues before tender when they can still be rectified on the drawing board for minimal cost.
The code, therefore, maps a total of 25 commissioning management tasks to the RIBA Plan of Work – from stages 1 to 7 – and is based on the following principles:
defining required performance outcomes
planning, improving and memorialising decision points
monitoring and verifying systems installation
verifying actual systems and building performance.
The commissioning management process is defined in the code as: 'Planning, monitoring and control of all aspects of commissioning and the engagement of all those involved in it, to achieve the specified outcomes.' (See Section 9, p25.)
However, commissioning management should also be a framework for quality assurance, a form of technical project management, and a compliance and performance verification system.
At present every energy model and design decision made assumes that each building system is installed exactly as specified, in accordance with manufacturers' and vendors' instructions, and that the settings are tested on site to achieve optimal performance. However, with the advent of smart technology we do not have to rely on assumptions and may instead assess actual performance. As such, a new evidence-based approach to building design, construction and handover is emerging. This is recognised not only in the revised code, but also in the Building Safety Act 2022 and the concept of a golden thread for safety information.
In addition to managing a very technical process using project management techniques, commissioning management provides verification of actual systems and building performance, and then records that performance in a series of record documents in the form of commissioning reports.
This verified performance as recorded in the commissioning reports becomes the baseline (benchmark) performance of the building moving forwards. The facilities management team can test the ongoing building performance against the as-built performance at handover.
The industry needs the CIBSE commissioning management process as an evidence-based approach because it seeks to answer the following questions:
How is this building meeting its specification?
How is this building performing?
How is this building achieving low operational carbon targets?
How is this building operationally ready?
Commissioning management is thus a form of technical due diligence (TDD). Property investors are increasingly relying on TDD that includes enhanced consideration of ESG criteria to inform them how a building actually performs, how far it is at risk of becoming stranded, and how that risk might be mitigated.
In future, we will see ESG targets and green building certifications evolve from setting design intentions to demanding evidence that these are achieved in use, through verification and monitoring performance. Greenwashing – in which exaggerated claims are made about sustainability to boost a product or organisation's image – will effectively be replaced by evidence of low- or net-zero-carbon performance at handover and in use.
The growing demand for evidence of performance will require project managers to develop deeper specialist subject matter expertise. This means project managers will need to become more skilled and knowledgeable at their jobs and also develop deeper understanding of others' expertise. To assess and accept evidence they will need a certain level of knowledge and expertise about what is being offered to them for acceptance and completion.
In my opinion, project managers who just follow process without an understanding of the technical issues on their projects will find the move to evidence of performance prior to completion difficult in the built environment, and process-only project management will not be sufficient. Surveyors have an advantage in this respect because RICS pathways allow members to specialise while still being project leaders.
For me, commissioning management is a form of technical project management that enhances the project management team and seeks to verify systems design intentions, to ensure buildings are completed as specified. Clients want buildings that are operationally ready rather than simply certified as practically complete.
Surveyors will benefit from embracing commissioning management as a way of adding value to projects, and in time I would like to see it become a new RICS pathway discipline.
'The growing demand for evidence of performance will require project managers to develop deeper specialist subject matter expertise'