What Kaizen tells us about continuous commissioning

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress Bain News Service "6 Day Bike Race, Madison Sq. Garden"

Major advances in building efficiency can result from incremental operational tweaks. British Cycling's Olympic squad adopted a continuous improvement mindset, and went from 1 for 76 in gold medals to 7 for 10 at the Beijing Olympics.

How do you take an Olympic cycling squad from rusty noncontender to gold medal dominator? Data-driven decisions and a shift of mindset to continuous improvement. This manic determination to constantly improve is a central tenant of the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, popularized in the 1980s for its role in shaping Japan’s economic renaissance. And it’s a touchstone in core curriculums across most graduate business schools. British cycling has business school to thank for teaching Sir Dave Brailsford about continuous improvement, for he put it to great use taking that country’s squad from only one gold medal, through 2002, to seven out of ten gold medals in Beijing and the same in London in 2012.

Kaizen’s three core principals are 1) human ingenuity is the greatest of assets, 2) improvements are best made methodically rather than radically, and 3) improvement comes from quantitative performance evaluation. Sir Dave Brailsford adapted these to his British cycling squad, applying three “podium principals” including strategy, human performance, and quantified, continuous improvement.

To improve strategy, the British squad carefully analyzed each component of every Olympic event to understand what specific factors led to success. For example, they quantified the amount of power each athlete would need to launch off of the starting line fast enough for victory. To improve human performance, and to avoid illness, the squad hired a surgeon to teach them proper hand-washing techniques. The squad also opted out of shaking hands during the olympics. Like many good mechanical rooms found in high-performance buildings, the British team painted the floor white in the mechanic’s area in the team’s trucks to lower dust and improve bike maintenance.

High-performance building managers have been applying the principals of continuous improvement to building operations for years. But only recently the tools that make it easy and cost effective for the rest of us have come to hand. In the early days, continuous commissioning projects required data loggers, shadow meters, journeys deep into the BMS, and multiple boots crawling around your building. Utility service smart meters have changed all of this, exposing the highest, most valuable level of data needed to ward your building from insidious performance degradation.

continuous commissioning example

The Snapmeter graph above shows a classic case of building drift, reflected by an elevated baseload of nearly 50kW. Even high-performance buildings experience operational anomalies: in this case, changes to the building’s engineering team were happening alongside a maintenance project, and an AHU was left on hand mode as a result.

If you have questions about the ways data-driven analytics on your whole-building smart meter data can help you continuously improve your building operations, please ask us.

About Millen Paschich

Millen began his career at Cambridge Associates, trained in finance at SMU, and has an MBA from UCLA. Talk to him about bicycling, business, and green chile burritos.

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