Too Clever By Half - AvNetwork.com

Too Clever By Half

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So what do you do when you underbid a major long-term project? Even with the best of intent and procedures, it still happens. I've found there's 600-year-old expression, "Too clever by half," which often sums up the situation quite nicely.

"Too clever by half" is the opposite of "Keep it simple, stupid." While many business leaders are smart, sometimes they are too smart for their own good. Traits like trying to over-optimize a deal by working on aspects of a business with which you have little experience. Like trying to pull off a fast one-the kiss of death for an integrator-or deliberately underbidding a job to get the work.

Occasionally, unpleasant issues arise during the course of a project in which you have some modicum of responsibility. Perhaps the consultant's design isn't quite up to scratch, the manufacturers raised their prices or went out of business, a key employee wasn't so key after all, an estimate was low, the owner actually wanted something completely different than what they asked for, payments are late or nonexistent, or you just plain screwed up.

Not that any of these have ever happened to me, of course.

Yet there generally is a line in every contract that states the integrator is responsible for providing a working system regardless of the circumstances. This catch-all phrase is often more prominently displayed in contracts where the owner/prime has a tradition of sticking it to their contractors. If, in fact, this line is the very first line well above your signature, you may, in fact, be doomed from the start.

Unlikely as it may seem, there are people not actually looking out for your best interest in the business world. Some look upon your imminent financial and functional collapse as a whimsical goal. Without getting too risqué, many an electrical contractor often seems to fit this modus operandi. They seem to strive to grind integrators into bankruptcy five minutes after turning in their as-built drawings.

So what to do in such circumstances? There are a couple of tactics. The first decision really boils down to whether you want to work with this team again. If you don't, then there is virtual panoply of options for your perusal. If you do, one must wonder.

The first and most obvious is what I call the "Dead Minimum" tactic. Define your costs, limit your exposure, do exactly what you are contracted to do, and offer absolutely nothing else in return. Ask detailed contractual and contextual questions regarding every vague point in the contract and demand change orders wherever possible. Don't get personal, just very mundane and business-like. Invoice early and often. In some states, you can start the mechanic's lien process and attach it straight to each invoice.

The second tactic is the "End Runner," which bypasses contract intermediates and attempts to build a strong relationship directly with the end-client. While this is a generally sound business policy in the short term, there may be people you alienate in your quest to get an uninterrupted audience with the potentate. This technique is commonly used by systems integrators to remove a consultant from a project. It is also an excellent way to alienate yourself from a consultant for the rest of your natural life.

A third technique is to subcontract your dog projects off to an even less business-savvy integrator than yourself and consequently transfer your woes upon them. Often referred to as the "Eye Dee Ten Tee (ID10T)" option, it's a great way to walk away from low-margin jobs and keep your competitors busy churning at no profit.

A fourth and commonly used tactic for larger integrators is to shift costs internally. Administrative, software and firmware costs are commonly shifted to other divisions without their consent. The software and firmware boys have developed this to a high art form over the years.

There are many other tactics of even greater sophistication available to the systems integrator. Whichever one you select, there will be downstream consequences to its eventual implementation which should be contemplated prior to your final tactical selection.

Ultimately, it is your fault you are in this predicament. You had the opportunity to bid the project more intelligently than you did. Regardless of the outcome, you're trying to shift the responsibility and costs of your poor business practices onto someone else. The competitor who bid that extra 5 or 10 percent may have been right after all.

The roll call of failed systems integrators in this business is far longer than the list of successful ones. Most of those failures are directly attributable to poor bidding and contracting practices and/or the inability to generate a consistent flow of work.

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