Whitepaper: 02.19.2016

Achieving Effective Operation of Your Systems

Eliminate the Unknowns on Your Next Renovation Project

On many projects, the focus during final turnover is often on the operations and maintenance (O&M) documentation and training of an owner’s personnel. While this is an essential activity, it is often not addressed until the final stages of a project. Ensuring the effective operation of systems (HVAC, water, electricity, security, data, process, etc.) requires taking a close look at how the team is preparing for operation of a project upon completion of construction.

In this article, we will be covering the key activities that the owner, designer and contractor need to take for a smooth transition of system operation to the owner’s O&M personnel, and more importantly, what it takes to make the O&M personnel effective. To accomplish this, we will address activities during preconstruction/design, construction, turnover and into the owner’s operational phase of a project.

One of the most significant disconnects in the effective operation of systems upon owner acceptance of a project actually occurs during the project’s preconstruction phase. This disconnect occurs between the skill level of the owner’s O&M personnel and the complexity of the systems being designed. It is a simple fact that O&M personnel will only be able to maintain a system to their current skill level — if a design is more complex than this ability, you either need to train them to the new complexity, or anticipate that they will simplify the operation of the system to their level of understanding.

Therefore, it is critical the owner, designers and contractor engage the O&M personnel in the design process to capture their feedback on the proposed systems and operation requirements. Unfortunately, this activity is not as easy as it seems, as there is not a simple question that you can ask to ascertain disconnects between knowledge and new system operation. While there are different ways to identify gaps, one of the best methods that we have found has been to convene a workshop between the designers of the system and the O&M personnel. The purpose of the workshop is to establish an open forum on what is being proposed for the new systems and ascertain the level of understanding by the O&M personnel. One way to accomplish this open forum is to do the following:

System Overview – Have the design team review each system, covering the following:

  • System Description: high level summary and purpose of the system
  • System Configuration: review of a one-line diagram of the system to understand how it is arranged and key interconnections to other systems
  • Control: review of how the system will be controlled, including different modes of operation and operator interface

O&M Skill Review – Determine the skills of O&M personnel through a brainstorming activity where the O&M personnel reply to the following questions:

  • What is the biggest challenge of the new systems?
  • What training is required to be able to operate the new systems?
  • What documentation is required to understand and operate/maintain the new systems?

It is recommended you have a facilitator familiar with using the Nominal Group Technique for this brainstorming session, as it maximizes the feedback from the O&M personnel.

  • System Metrics – Identify key metrics that can be used to verify proper system operation.

Through this workshop, the O&M personnel will develop an understanding of the complexity of the system. Working with the design team and the O&M personnel, the owner is able to quickly see the gaps and address them – either by simplifying the systems or by instituting training and documentation.

The transition of the systems from the contractor to the owner must begin during construction. This allows for the O&M personnel to become familiar with the new systems as they are being installed, not after everything is completed. Therefore, during the construction phase of a project, the following should be accomplished by the project team (designers, contractors and O&M personnel):

  • On-Going Site Visits – O&M personnel should complete a tour of the project site at least 10 times during the construction, ensuring they clearly understand how the systems are being constructed and can provide feedback on improvement for operations.
  • System Start-up – O&M personnel need to be an integral part of system start-up. This involvement ensures an understanding of what it takes to get the systems to work and allows them to learn system tips and tricks from the manufacturer experts.
  • Incremental/Scenario Based Training – Training on the operation of the systems needs to be incremental in nature so O&M personnel have an opportunity to absorb the information and put it to use over time. This is much more effective than one lengthy session. In addition, it is recommended that the training be tailored to what the O&M personnel will need to do their job right away. Scenario-based training that highlights typical system scenarios the O&M personnel might have to troubleshoot — from loss of power to degradation of performance — is very effective.

During the turnover of the system from the contractor to the owner, the final training and system documentation is provided. While much of the material and documentation was created earlier in construction, the final versions are provided at the completion of construction to capture any changes made during the project.

In order for the final system documentation to be effective, it is important to address the following early on in its creation:

Type and Level of Documentation – It is important to define what type and level of documentation is required. An easy way to think about this is to consider the documentation you receive with a new car – there is the simple owner’s manual to help you understand and troubleshoot basic issues, technical manuals that allow an expert to repair the car, and manufacturer’s documents that allow them to do more intensive investigations and testing.

For each project, an owner needs to determine the different levels of documentation necessary depending upon what level of detail the O&M staff needs to be involved.

Documentation Interface – With the advent of digital documentation for system operation and maintenance, it is now easy to enhance not only the level of information available but also the way O&M personnel interface with the documentation. Relative to the interface, an owner should consider a graphical approach allowing a quick understanding of systems and access to information within a few clicks of the mouse. Below are two examples, one for a building and one for a plant.

Maintenance of Documents – The final documentation item to address is how O&M personnel will maintain the information as components and equipment change. This is critical, because if the information becomes unreliable, O&M personnel will begin to rely on anecdotal information versus original operational intent. The key is to make it simple to maintain and to ensure that personnel are trained in how to accomplish this.

Once the O&M personnel take possession of the systems, the following additional activities should occur:

  • Ongoing Training – O&M personnel should receive training throughout the first year of operation by key manufacturers. This will allow them to ask questions and to improve operations by having access to the system experts.
  • Period Project Reviews – The designer and contractor should meet with the O&M personnel several times during the first year of operation to review the original design intent and address issues that arise from operations along with any seasonal changes.
  • 11-Month Warranty Review – At the 11-month point, the project team should walk through each system to identify any issues covered by warranty before this expires.
  • Document Maintenance – Review the maintenance of documentation to verify O&M personnel are accomplishing the activity. If this is not being completed, remedial training and follow-up is required.
  • Metrics – Accomplish ongoing measurements of key metrics to identify and address any system degradation.
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