The Joy of Change Orders

It’s a truism that the first casualty of every battle is the plan. One of the realities of building things is that sometimes the plan gets changed. While ideally every eventuality gets considered and decided upon during the design and planning stages, we don’t live in an ideal world we live in this one.

Consequently, change orders are a fact of life. When it comes to change orders, AV pros either seem to loathe them or welcome them, but either way, they have to deal with them effectively.

The frequency and incidence of change orders on the project can indeed be minimized in the design and planning stages. And at the same time, the scope of work document that develops during those stages will clearly spell out to the client what is and isn’t covered in the scope of, which will clarify what qualifies as a change order once the project is underway. Everything in your work has a process, and dealing with change orders is no different.

The first consideration is to minimize the need to make change orders later. During the initial phases, ensure your your team and your client reviews, and has a complete understanding of, the scope of work and the contract terms. Checking and double checking your documents for errors should be so obvious as to not need mentioning… but I’ll mention it anyway. (As a reminder, the scope of work documents are a detailed explanation of tasks, materials, equipment and services that are excluded in your project.)

The contract for your quoted-out project is always contingent upon estimates about the time needed to complete your work. It’s important to build in conditions for seeking adjustments in contract price, time of completion or right of termination in the event of delays or other conditions out of your control.

And of course, the scope of work and the terms of the contract need to be in agreement.

Once the contract is signed, anything requested that’s outside the scope of work is going to require a change order.
When a change is identified, whether as a result of a discrepancy on the jobsite between as-drawn and as-built or requested by the client, there are steps that need to be taken.

As the contractor, request a change order from the client. Then calculate for the client a quotation for the labor and materials that you estimate the change order will require.

It’s important to be thorough. Perhaps more than most disciplines, changes to the AV or control integration can have substantial knock-on effects throughout the systems you’re installing.

For example, consider a client who has the electricians installing additional banks of lighting that weren’t in the original design. If you’re responsible for the lighting control in the automation, those additional loads will require additional modules, which in turn may require bigger enclosures to house them in, and of course additional programming costs. As one of my old mentors was fond of saying, “every solution has two problems,” so bill accordingly.

Always, always, ALWAYS require the written change order to be approved and signed off on by the client, or their designate who has the authority to approve it, before beginning work on it.

Conversely, never proceed with work on a change order until it’s approved. This needs to be a hill you’re willing to die on. Making changes as a favor never, ever benefits you. Inevitably, it will cost you.

Despite being almost inevitable, change orders are still a hassle. But manage them effectively and you can mitigate that hassle and, more importantly, be compensated appropriately for them.