Just the other day I was involved in a discussion with long-time AV industry people. One of the complaints leveled at the channel as a whole was that overall, the barriers to entry are low: At the most basic level, all anyone needs is a set of tools, a vehicle, and small lines of credit at a supplier or two and voila, an AV pro is born! You can usually spot them, because they keep using the word “integrator” to describe themselves.
However, there’s a meridian that separates AV pros into two distinct groups: those who can complete projects profitably, and those who can’t. That meridian is the ability to effectively manage projects through their phases.
That’s what really sets successful AV pros apart from their counterparts: Their work is efficient and orderly. At every junction of the project, it’s imperative to have a process for everything; and to use those processes to stay on track and, most importantly, on budget.
As an old boss of mine was fond of saying, “Plan your work, and work your plan.” He also was fond of saying “proper processes produce predictable projects.”
It’s his voice I hear in my head when I’m talking about or contemplating project management. Everything in a project falls into these neat little boxes:
Assessment and planning: Prior to creating a design is gathering information. The needs assessment discussions with the client is where the Who, What, Why and Where questions are asked, and those will lead to the answers about How.
Be thorough. Ask lots of questions, and, most important, listen to the answers. The planning and design stages are where it is least expensive to make changes, while they’re still on paper.
Design is many people’s favorite. I think it’s over-rated. Really, seasoned AV pros maintain detailed design templates of proven installations, all of which have been built to consistent standards.
If you know what you’re doing, few “custom installations” are truly custom, if for no other reason than reinventing the wheel on every project is expensive. Most of the time, templates should only require minor tailoring from one client to the next.
More often than not comes development and redesign: It’s entirely possible, probable, even, for you and your client to go through more than a single design iteration before securing agreement on the scope of the final project.
Initial testing: This is a phase that separates the true pros from the rest. Much of the testing work done prior to installation will be of the programming, as well as installing hardware in the racks, and testing the ensure that the physical connections between devices are good.
Installation is the phase everyone thinks of when they think of this business. And while vital, its success is largely dependent upon what your company does in the preceding phases.
In a perfect world, on-site testing wouldn’t need to occur. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Once the installation phase has been completed it’s time to retest.
There are always going to be a variance between “as-drawn” and “as-built” and you’ll need to find those variances and correct them. It’s inevitable, but if you stuck to your plans and processes phase will be much shorter than if you hadn’t.
Remember, plans are made ahead of time. If they’re made up after the fact, then they aren’t plans, they’re fixes. And as the saying goes “the first casualty of every battle is the plan.”
That said, the ability to be quick and clever when it comes to problem solving is great, but it’s even better to do your best to not have problems in the first place. Coming at each phase of the project with that in mind will save you time and money.