Getting the Most Out of Your Toolbox

By Nicole Imeson, P.L.(Eng.)

Documenting the Owner’s Project Requirements —commonly referred to as the OPR — is essential to a project’s success and ability to be completed on time with minimal changes. Despite their importance, OPRs are often tucked away on a shelf, never to be seen again. This checklist article discusses how to use the OPR effectively throughout a project, from conceptual design all the way to facility operations, and get more out of the most important tool in your commissioning toolbox.

The OPR is a written document outlining an owner’s requirements and expectations for a project. A well-written OPR will include things like the project description, functional uses, performance criteria, sustainability goals, budget considerations, and code compliance. The OPR sets the project goals and measurable performance criteria as well as clarifies the owner’s intent on how they want to use and operate the facility.  By defining a clear set of owner expectations, the project team is better equipped to understand what is acceptable and what is unacceptable when making decisions about the building systems.

The Building Commissioning Association’s New Construction Building Commissioning Best Practices outline the various stages of a project where the OPR should be consulted and updated based on changes that may occur on the project. As a simple go/no-go gauge to assess whether the OPR should be consulted, whenever there is a change to the project or to the commissioning plan, the OPR should be reviewed to ensure it’s still relevant, complete, and is followed in its entirety.  

Reduce the Barrier to Entry

To ensure the OPR is used by the entire project team, reduce the barrier to entry for the reader. First and foremost, write the OPR as if you’re going to re-read it frequently. Ideally, it should be concise and written in plain language to make it clear and easily understood by all parties on the project. It should also be straightforward to allow the reader to find the necessary information within seconds.

Craig Hawkins, a 30-year commissioning veteran, has found when the OPR is consulted regularly throughout a project and followed to the letter, “there are very few change orders, very few RFIs (requests for information), and the building gets delivered on time, and everybody’s happy with it.” This is a win not just for the commissioning provider and owner but for the entire project team. Completing projects on time and on budget with few hiccups is much more likely to create repeat work for the project team.

Involvement From All Parties

When creating the OPR, it’s important to get input from the facilities team. The owner is likely knowledgeable in how to run the business of the facility, but not the facility itself, and they will rely heavily on an operations or service team to keep the building running smoothly. This is especially helpful in large facilities with more complex systems to ensure the operations team has the time and skillset to effectively manage them. In scenarios where the facility team is not in place when the OPR is written — which is not ideal but can happen — the design team or a local maintenance contractor with experience in similar facilities is a great resource to assist the owner in understanding how the facility could operate and be maintained and identify some of the limitations with various systems.

When it comes to the conceptual design process at the beginning stages of a project, the OPR is the standard for how the building should function and operate. The basis of design (BOD) — a document outlining the design criteria —defines how the requirements of the OPR will be met. As the project progresses into the design, the OPR should be referred to throughout the drawing review process to ensure the design team has met the owner’s expectations and not deviated from the benchmark set out in the OPR. Since the OPR was circulated to the entire team before the design started, this also offers the owner the ability to push back and seek changes to any design decisions which deviate from the OPR. Including the OPR and BOD in the contract documents offers multiple advantages because the owner’s expectations are circulated to the entire project team, and the contractor is now contractually bound by the OPR. This encourages them to flag any discrepancies between the OPR and drawings or specifications.

The Only Constant is Change

When the OPR is consulted throughout a project, there are times when the design will adjust to meet the OPR, but there are also times when the OPR will adjust to meet the design, with the owner’s approval, of course. By promoting open communication with the project team throughout the lifecycle of design, construction, and operation, this is easily achieved. Using the OPR throughout the process ensures important decisions are discussed regularly rather than only at the beginning or end of a project.

Another important checkpoint to refer to the OPR is after any pauses or delays during design or construction. Hawkins notes, “everybody’s program changes in 10 years’ time, it’s just a fact of life.” The usage of the facility or specific rooms, how the facility will operate, and the representatives for the owner and operators may have changed over the pause period. The OPR should be consulted at this stage to make sure it is still relevant and being followed.

Similar to an OPR for new construction, the Current Facility Requirements (CFR) are used as part of the existing building commissioning process to outline how the building will be used and operated, as well as define the owner’s expectations and goals for the project. A well-written and followed OPR during new construction establishes a base plan for ongoing commissioning or existing building commissioning because the expectations are already defined. Even in scenarios where some of those expectations are no longer relevant, the original OPR can be used as a jumping-off point to get the owner thinking about how they currently use the facility and how the OPR has changed over the life of the building. The Building Commissioning Association’s Existing Building Commissioning Best Practices outlines the various stages of a project where the CFR should be consulted and updated based on changes that may occur on the project.

In a world where time is money, being effective with your time is a key factor in success. By developing a detailed and well-written OPR at the start of a project and referring to it on a regular basis, the number of issues discovered during construction are significantly reduced. While spending front-end time on the OPR may seem counterintuitive, by reducing time in the field to correct issues, the overall time spent on a project is reduced. 

How do you get the OPR in front of as many project team eyes as possible on a continual basis? How do you ensure there is value in repeatedly reading the OPR for each team member? Should we consider incorporating the OPR into the commissioning plan to get it in front of more people more often?

If you enjoyed this article, consider checking out our upcoming webinar:

Working with the Owner to Develop the OPR and Use it Throughout the Life of the Building on April 17, 2023. Register Here