There have been many instances over the last few years where I’ve found myself debating the role of verification versus certification in major projects.
Confusion regarding verification versus certification is unsurprising, given the wide range of contractual models (particularly under the banners of Alliancing and Public Private Partnerships) applied in delivering infrastructure projects across Australia in recent years. For various reasons – mostly due to the relatively small number of major projects undertaken locally – each project tends to be a “one-off” application of a hybrid contractual structure. In these cases project Verification, Validation and Certification are important elements that need to be gotten right. It is critical to project success that:
a) the need for Verification, Validation and Certification activities in a given project circumstance are clearly established;
b) the activities are structured correctly from a contractual design perspective; and
c) the roles are clearly understood by all parties involved in the project.
Let’s start with some broad definitions, for which Wikipedia provides a very helpful resource. Verification consists of undertaking procedures that check that a product, service or system meets the specified requirements. In the development phase, verification procedures involve performing special tests to model or simulate a portion, or the entirety, of a product, service or system, then performing a review or analysis of the modelling results. It is a process that is used to evaluate whether a product, service, or system complies with regulations, specifications, or conditions imposed at the start of a development phase. Verification can be in development, scale-up, or production and is often an internal process.
Validation comprises procedures that check that a product, service, or system fulfils its intended purpose. It is sometimes said that validation can be expressed by the query “Are you building the right thing?” whereas verification by “Are you building it right?” It is entirely possible that a product passes when verified but fails when validated. This can happen when, say, a project is built as per the specifications but the specifications themselves fail to address the user’s needs.
By way of comparison, The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) produced by the Project Management Institute (PMI) defines Verification and Validation as follows:
“Verification: The evaluation of whether or not a product, service, or system complies with a regulation, requirement, specification, or imposed condition. It is often an internal process.”
“Validation: The assurance that a product, service, or system meets the needs of the customer and other identified stakeholders. It often involves acceptance and suitability with external customers.”
Certification as an activity comprises an assessment of the extent to which specified requirements pertaining to a product, service or system have been met. An assessment is typically undertaken by an independent party and is most commonly applied in the property and development industry, with parties seeking to put in place measures which are intended to mitigate project risk.
In a property and development industry context, it is very common for an Independent Certifier to be jointly engaged by a client and their builder under a construction contract, or by a landlord and a tenant under an agreement for lease, to act in an independent third party role to determine potentially contentious elements of the agreement and to act as an expert should contractual disputes arise. This third party role can assist in avoiding conflict altogether, and should a dispute arise the matter can be dealt with by an expert professional with inherent knowledge of the project and the legal agreements.
Matters handled by the Independent Certifier might include:
- Determining whether key milestone dates have been achieved, such as Handover and Practical Completion;
- Programming assessments and determination in relation to ‘look forward’ provisions;
- Variation cost determination;
- Extension of time claim determination;
- Preparation of defects lists and determination of rectification works;
- Dispute resolution and determination;
- Potential services to a third party financier; and/or
- Other services as the parties to the legal agreement may require.
In major projects Verification and Validation activities are also regularly undertaken by an independent party – termed an Independent Verifier / Validator. In theory though and with appropriately specified internal and external requirements and clearly articulated assessment methodologies, these activities should be able to be undertaken internally (by the designer and constructor) and then independently assessed and certified (on behalf of the client) as needed.
The decision to appoint an independent Verifier/Validator and/or Certifier comes down to individual circumstances and in particular the perceived needs of the client and contractor. One key issue which should be considered by the client relates to the need for approval of detailed design specifications before construction can begin. Experience indicates that design-build techniques – in which construction begins before the final detailed plan is completed – can substantially reduce the cost of constructing a project. The requirement for client – which in the case of most major projects is Government – approval of detailed plans before construction can begin eliminates most of these potential cost savings. A robust specification, well-designed verification and validation processes and clearly articulated certification requirements provides a framework to enable the constructor to play their part in optimising the cost of delivering the project.
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BE (Mech), MBA