The Process is the Experience

There’s nothing more exciting in the AV industry for me then the moment that the lights come on, the projectors fire up, and the audio is crisp, clear, and just straight up awesome. Compounded by the expressions of joy on our clients faces, bringing about the magic makes everything worth it. However, our industry typically comes in at the end of a project, and will not have the established relationship other contractors may have with the owner, general contractor, etc. and, as a result, we tend to not play the construction game well while we focus on our craft and its quality.

Communication and accountability are often the culprits of a poorly executed project. While taking care of clients’ needs and delivering truly inspiring systems is a must in order to win, doing so at a profit is necessary to continue to be in business creating those experiences and enriching people’s lives. Having a structured project management process, and sticking to it, will save headaches and lost profits, and it doesn’t take much more effort than you’re probably putting forth already.

The first step is to identify the stakeholders on your project. This will usually be the owner, consultant, and general contractor. The volunteer sound operator, while important, does not have a say in the design and execution and, therefore, does not have a seat at the table. Knowing who you answer to, and who you don’t answer to, can save frustration and lost effort.

Defining the scope clearly is also a crucial primary step. After the contracts are signed, create a work breakdown structure (WBS)—a hierarchical decomposition of the total scope to be carried out to accomplish the project objectives. This shows at a task level what needs to be done in all aspects of the design to complete the work assigned. Having a baseline of each task packet, usually down to four-hour increments, leaves no doubt what is and isn’t expected by you as a subcontractor.

Developing a schedule of work is next on the list, and is easily completed with a detailed WBS. Organizing a Gantt chart to give to the general contractor can be done with software and sets the expectation for your scope. You’ll want to note each task, the required resources to complete them, and how long you expect them to take.

Planning communications with the stakeholders is equally important before the work begins. Knowing who needs updates, how they want to receive them (paper copies, e-mail, intranet portals, etc.), and how frequently they should come is a great way to stay on top of the project schedule and stay involved. Also keep in mind the performance metrics like project completion and percent-to-budget—important info to keep the stakeholders happy and at a distance.

Finally, planning for negative risk needs to occur before work begins on site. All potential risks should be recorded and ordered, in order of probability and rated by impact to project completion. A game plan should be developed for these risks so that when they occur, you are not caught off guard. To deal with risk you can avoid, transfer, mitigate, or accept it. Avoiding risk is a way to keep the risk from happening altogether. Mitigating risk seeks to lessen the impact it has on the project and can be accomplished by placing an order on a long-lead item early in the hopes that it will be delivered in time to stay on schedule.

Transferring risk is a way to let others deal with the problem, rather than yourself. An insurance policy is a common way this is dealt with—the other party knows about the risk, and the loss is passed to them. Lastly, risk acceptance occurs when you agree to acknowledge the risk and not take any action unless the risk occurs. The most common way to deal with risk acceptance is to have a contingency reserve of money, time, or resources in case it occurs.

So now that we have planned how the job is going to be managed, the execution can occur. The great part about project management is that the heavy lifting is usually done before the work on site begins, and the rest is simply sticking to your plan. The better the plan, the less work that is required at the end of the day.

Stakeholder management allows us to deal with the right people. Scope management and our WBS allows us to point to the contractual activities and refuse to do additional work for free. Having a detailed schedule allows us to charge for overtime or additional labor, because we weren’t given enough time to complete and we were upfront about it. Risk management helps us to unemotionally handle stressful situations, because the game plan was already put into place.

The AV industry is amazing, and I am constantly delighted by the people and innovation that make up AV. If we can strategically win the construction game though precise planning and communication, there is nothing that can stop us from doing good while doing well. And that is an exceptional experience by itself!

Luke Jordan, PMP, CTS-I is an account manger at Electro Acoustics who helps guide people to create exceptional experiences by crafting exceptional communication tools. He is AVIXA’s 2016 CTS Holder of the Year, and serves as the chair of the AVIXA Integrators Council. He can be found on Twitter @LukeJordanEAVI.