Commissioning stands between capital outlay and the start of investment return. In the world of Capital Investments, projects that define commissioning, plan for commissioning, and self-perform commissioning benefit with shorter timeframes and build a depth of knowledge that reliance on others and merely conducting training seldom accomplishes.

Start with the Definition

The word “commissioning” is utilized and recognized by nearly every person who participates in capital projects. Rarely do any two groups of people have the same definition of commissioning. Owners benefit when a commissioning manager capable of defining and establishing a common definition of commissioning for a project is appointed.

Plan Early

Projects that identify systems in the front-end engineering phase obtain the best overall project results.1 Major systems of utilities, facilities, and process should all be broken down into smaller subsystems and sequenced. Subsystems should be logically grouped subsets that include the equipment and controls necessary to perform a common function or purpose. Identifying these systems in advance of construction sequencing is essential to realizing a logical turnover. Identifying systems in advance of detail engineering is best practice, allowing sequential energization and isolation of systems from later systems still undergoing construction.


When the owner’s operational and maintenance (O&M) staff self-perform commissioning, the participants gain in depth knowledge of the installation. Commissioners learn location, purpose, interdependencies, measurements, controls, and intent of the installation. Often original equipment manufacturers (OEM) provide specialized services, first hand interaction with the OEM resources is highly beneficial to the O&M staff.

Commissioners become troubleshooters and trainers. The best-case scenario is where a small team of O&M staff receive logically sequenced turnover of subsystems to commission, moving from one subsystem to the next. In this manner the personnel ultimately responsible for establishing and maintaining production of the installation learn every part.

1 “Planning for Startup: Analysis of the planning model and other successful drivers” A report to the Construction Industry Institute, the University of Texas at Austin. January 1999. Authors: James T. O’Conner, John S. McLeod, and Garrick B. Graebe


Obtaining world class performance in commissioning and startup requires early planning, common definition and understanding, and commitment to the plan by all parties. If any part of the choreography is late, weak, or absent, the commissioning team and the project suffer consequences. Below are a few scenarios which demonstrate pitfalls that may occur if the choreography or timing of planning are deficient:

Scenario 1: Subsystem construction is complete, but the commissioners cannot safely energize the equipment because constructors are actively wiring unrelated equipment in the same electrical cabinets.
Probable Root Cause – insufficient or late planning
Consequences – delay, workload imbalance, frustration

Scenario 2: Commissioners find that construction work was incomplete or has a high number of deficiencies.
Probable Root Cause – lack of definition of responsibilities
Consequences – delay, rework, workload imbalance, frustration

Scenario 3: Subsystem turnover to commissioners are delayed.
Probable Root Causes — poor vendor or construction performance, unforeseen events Consequences – unreasonable workload on commissioning team causes project delay or short cuts that raise overall risk

Role of a Commissioning Manager

Whether called a Commissioning Manager or Startup Leader, a knowledgeable resource experienced with capital projects is a key to success for owner’s self-performance of commissioning. Involvement in capital project execution is discontinuous for most operations and maintenance workers and outside of their primary workstreams. The tasks to perform commissioning are mostly commonplace, but the choreography is complex, making effective leadership essential.

John Neff
Project Manager
Global Management Partners
(864) 334-2860

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