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Qualities of an Excellent Commissioning Provider

Who is an excellent commissioning provider (a.k.a. commissioning authority, commissioning agent, commissioning professional, commissioning consultant, etc.)?

This is a question I started pondering about 10 years ago as I began building a commissioning staff. I don’t ponder too much any more, as I’m pretty sure I know the right combination of qualities, skill sets, and professional experiences. This confidence has come with its share of good picks and not-so-good picks, each one being a learning experience.

Before I start listing the top qualities, in my opinion, of a commissioning professional, I want to make it clear that I don’t expect to find all of these in a single person. Even if one is lucky enough to find all of the non-technical qualities in one man or woman, it is impractical to expect a single person to have in-depth training, knowledge, and hands-on working experience with every type of technical system that might need to be commissioned. Therefore, many commissioning professionals will come as a team. It is best if every member of that team possesses most of the following qualities, especially if they are going to interact with the owner, designer, and contractor team members.

Facility Operations Background: Someone who has been responsible, as an owner/manager, for operating and maintaining building systems. This is someone who not only understands the hands-on technical realities of building systems but is also empathetic to the non-technical pressures building operators face on an on-going basis.

Construction Experience: It is imperative to have someone who understands standard project delivery methods, whether they are traditional design/bid/build, design-build, fast track, multiple primes, etc. If the commissioning provider doesn’t know the terminology or understand the probable roles and responsibilities of other project team members, the commissioning provider will lose the team’s respect. The commissioning provider will likely be seen as an ineffective drag on the project instead of the helpful facilitator s/he should be.

Engineering Design Training and Experience: Similarly, the commissioning provider should have a solid understanding of what goes into starting with a blank piece of paper and designing an integrated set of building systems. Without that, there will be little or no common ground with the design team, and it may be difficult to develop the mutually respectful relationships imperative to a successful commissioning process. Also, an excellent engineering education is critical to being able to discover, define, and discuss issues with the design team in a common language – often going back to the basic laws of physics.

Excellent Speaker: Much of the commissioning provider’s role involves educating others about the commissioning process and persuading them to participate in what is often a new approach to project delivery. In addition, the commissioning provider is often called upon to identify root causes of problems and explain, from a third party perspective, what is happening and why. It is an absolute requirement, in my opinion, that the commissioning provider be a strong public speaker who will gain the attention and respect of other team members.

Excellent Writer: Although speaking is the primary requirement, writing is another critical activity for a commissioning provider. Documentation is one of the three cornerstones of commissioning (documentation, testing, and training). As such, it only makes sense that the commissioning provider be able to write effectively during all phases of the project and to all project team members. The documentation needs to cover the commissioning process itself and the technical issues that arise as a part of the process. It is in the documentation of the system configurations, operational sequences, and the commissioning process itself that the long term benefits of commissioning can be realized.

Respectful: In trying to find the best word to describe the quality I’m talking about here, I came up with a lot of negatives including: non-egotistical, non-self-promoting, non-condescending. Project teams don’t need any more individuals trying to prove themselves right. Project teams don’t need anyone who exhibits the attitude that the project would be doomed if it weren’t for the commissioning provider.

What project teams need is a person or team of people committed to helping each of the other project team members work together, be heard, shine, and succeed like they never have before. This takes a person who is very comfortable with who they are, what they know, and what they have to offer. It takes a person who can calmly but effectively listen to other team members’ concerns and articulate why the commissioning process will be positive for each of them.


Engineered Systems, February, 2005

Rebecca Ellis, PE, LEED AP, CCP, CxA
Questions & Solutions Engineering
1079 Falls Curve
Chaska, MN  55318