How Do I Choose A Good Commissioning Agent?

Throughout this series we’ve established the importance of building commissioning. Now we’re looking at the characteristics of a good commissioning agent and how to identify them in the procurement process. In our first piece, What You Need to Know About Building Commissioning, we talked about how the field has changed over the years. Because of its rapid progression, there are still many commissioning professionals whose processes are guided by certification requirements rather than the specific needs of a building. At Henderson Building Solutions, we’ve helped several organizations draft scopes and desired skills for requests for proposals/qualifications (RFP/Q) to help them identify what’s important in finding the right commissioning agent for their project.

While every procurement process is different and every response unique, each is designed to select the person that is the best fit. Based on our experience and feedback from our clients, we’ve complied what we believe are the three most important qualities of commissioning professional.

A Solid Foundation of Experience

When we say experience, we’re not talking about someone with a vast retail resume because you’re building a store. Although, that type of experience is necessary, especially in highly regulated facilities such as hospitals and laboratories, what we’re looking for is leadership. A commissioning agent is not only a technical adviser, but also an owner’s representative and mediator. This comprehensive role means that they have to be able to explain how things work, apply multiple factors in solutions, and help prevent and resolve issues onsite. With the owner’s interest paramount, they help bring the team together under a collective vision.

What to Look for

References are key in determining how successful a respondent is in providing true leadership during a project. Another indicator of solid leadership is how their team interacts during the interview. Do they function well together? Are they asking for your participation? If not, you may find they are more focused on the price tag than your interests.

A Strong Desire for Collaboration

Friction is common in the building industry. Everyone has different ideas, priorities, and schedules. That’s why it’s imperative that your commissioning agent approach every interaction with collaboration in mind. Managing the responsibility to deliver a building that works, while bringing together the expertise of architects, engineers, and contractors, can make it difficult to focus on collaboration instead of control. When it comes to solving issues during design and construction, it’s never one-sided and will always require cooperation by one or more parties. Having a commissioning agent that not only knows buildings, but also knows how to foster collaborative relationships, can help the project go smoother. If everyone is working together toward a common goal, everyone can be successful on the project.

What to Look for

Whether you’re reviewing the RFP/Q response or interviewing potential candidates, listen to how they tell their stories. The opposite of collaboration is finger-pointing. When they talk about past projects, are they quick to blame one party or another? If so, it might be a good indication that they don’t value collaboration.

A Willingness to Bridge the Gap

In a typical construction effort, the architect, engineer, and contractor weave in and out of the process. While all three represent very specific areas of expertise, the innovation of design and the complexities of the built environment have to be vetted before they get to the field. Otherwise, there’s a good chance the construction schedule and budget will be affected by constant RFIs and change orders. It’s the commissioning agent’s job to have a solid understanding of not only design and construction, but functionality and maintenance. This expertise allows them to identify operational importance and maximize the effectiveness of design through construction. Ideally, a commissioning agent is engaged at the beginning of the project and stays involved through the initial stages of occupancy.

What to Look for

Both the interview and the response should indicate a clear understanding of your needs and how that translates into a building. What’s unique about your building or business? Are they asking you that or addressing it directly? If so, it’s a good sign that they can bring value to the team by bridging the gap between imagination and function. It’s also a good idea to see what other services they offer. Do they help with troubleshooting or utility studies? These services can suggest further expertise in design and construction fields, which could help them provide you with more effective solutions.

No matter what you’re building, we’re all human. Everyone on the project team has different objectives based on their role. But, at the ribbon cutting, every member of the project team wants to look at the building with pride and say, “We built that.” It’s why we come to work every day. As commissioning agents, we help align everyone’s objectives under the owner’s goals to deliver a mutually beneficial conclusion that everyone can be proud of — that’s why you hire us. If you have questions about how to secure a good commissioning agent for your project, contact us here for more information. We’re happy to help make your project successful.

Written By
Greg York

Client Sector Design & Construction Director

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