The difference between theoretical and practical is apparent to any AV pro who’s spent their time in the field. And while you can learn either by doing or by observing, lessons are generally internalized better when you’re right in there getting your hands dirty and learning the realities of the job.
In theory, once an install has been completed and all the tidying up has been done, that should be it; the system should work as designed and installed. In practice, probably not. It would be nice if it did, but you can’t count on it. So it’s time to test it.
On one project, when we reached the testing phase, a new hire asked, “What are we testing for?” Our senior installer’s response was succinct: “Everything.”
The testing phase is the time to shake down the system’s functions and ensure it does everything it was designed to do. It’s the quality control phase. Of course, there should be quality control during installation, too, but this is the final checklist. Find deficiencies and correct them. Testing for issues before handing the system over to the client is better for client satisfaction. It is certainly better than rolling trucks in after you presented the system as “finished.”
Like everything else you do, there’s a process. Having a process and — this is the important part — following it will make your life a lot easier. Your system’s design will have a checklist of system functions. Ideally, most of the systems you do will follow a standardized template. That uniformity from one design to the next helps to ensure consistency.
Whatever silos you have in your system (audio, video, lighting control, etc) are supposed to be itemized and arranged in a logical progression so that the tester can check off and initial each function after confirming it. If it’s deficient, they can write a note on the deficiency for follow-up testing. When deficiencies have been identified, it’s time to follow your troubleshooting steps: Diagnose, Analyze, Repair, Test and Prevent. Those together are a blog post in themselves, so we’ll save drilling down on those for another time and move on.
Once you’ve completed and confirmed that the deficiencies are fixed, it’s time to review the results with the relevant team members. Reviewing the final install at a team meeting is an invaluable training tool. I said before that you can learn by doing or learn by observing, but arguably there’s another way to learn: by messing up. Making an error, finding that error and correcting that error goes a long way towards reducing errors in the future.
Even after all these years, I can hear the voices of old bosses and mentors in my head as I prepare for the task when I pull out tools. I can’t over-emphasize the importance of rigorous field testing. I will gladly procrastinate about a lot of things, but system deficiencies are not something you can put off for another day or sweep under the carpet and hope for the best. Find them, fix them and then you can hand the system off to the client.