Trying New Things Without Disaster

problemsolvingfeat0708In the past, I’ve talked about problem solving and how much AV pros love to do it. I also cautioned against being so fond of problem solving that you subconsciously engineer situations where you can swoop into the middle of a crisis and be the hero. After all, as I pointed out, the only thing better than solving problems is not having any problems to begin with.

One potential source of problems comes from including untested products or solutions into the client’s system. Ask any seasoned AV installer or manufacturer’s rep who knows what he’s talking about and they’ll give you one word of advice. That word is “Don’t.” Or more commonly, “DON’T!” And yet, it’ll still happen.

I’m certain that there are numerous scenarios for venturing into Parts Unknown while on the job, but the two most common, or at least the two that I’ve been guilty of are either Unjustified Confidence In Your Vendor and We’ve Never Had To Do That Before.

The first one is the easiest one to place a blanket proscription against. Never, ever, EVER install product that you haven’t already vigorously tested and retested in the office and your showroom’s demonstration system.

I’ve made the mistake of doing unpaid Beta testing for a manufacturer. It sucks. In one instance I boldly specified a brand-new remote control system (the brand shall remain nameless) into a simple media room job. Long story short, the remote and its module were NOT ready for prime time. After thirty total hours of troubleshooting, programming changes, calls to tech support and firmware updates, not to mention getting scolded by my boss we scrapped the remote, and plugged in a proven unit.

In his withering email to the vendor my boss pointed out, “We could have programmed a Crestron system for an entire house in thirty hours!”

Technology continues to advance, and we all need to learn something new on a regular basis. If you wanted to play it safe, you’d all still be installing volume control knobs, and nothing else. The lesson here is educating yourself on your own time in the office, not on the customer’s clock.

See related  Always Defer to Expertise

The other instance is when you tackle technical hurdles on the jobsite that you’ve never had to deal with before. This strikes most of us while still rookies, but even seasoned professionals have stories about venturing into the unknown.

The one that springs to my mind was being responsible for HVAC control in a palatial house whose HVAC was a hybrid of multiple systems, including both forced air and glycol in-floor pumps. In addition to multiple temperature sensors, multiple thermostats were required and they all had to be controlled via a simple interface.

In instances where you’re venturing into Parts Unknown you need to be honest with your client, and be clear that, “We’re very competent and professional, and that’s why we’re telling you now that we’ve never done something like this before.” You’re way better off getting that out in the open instead of trying to bluff and fake it. In those scenarios, regardless of the standard labor agreement your company uses, the best solution is to work it out with the client so that you bill for the actual time it takes to deliver a finished project.

In the aforementioned hybrid HVAC system, not only did we bill for our actual time designing and making the controls work, we availed ourselves of outside expertise, not only from our vendor, but also from subject matter experts on CEDIA’s teaching staff.

Even if you’ve never been down a particular road before, odds are someone else has. Ask other professionals for their expert advice, and heed it. That support allows you and your team to learn and grow.