10 Ways You Know an AV Project is in Jeopardy

We asked AV professionals to identify the important red flags that indicate trouble on an AV integration project. Avoid these mistakes and come away a hero in your clients' eyes. 10/14/2010 10:37 PM Eastern

10 Ways You Know an AV Project is in Jeopardy

We asked AV professionals to identify the important red flags that indicate trouble on an AV integration project. Avoid these mistakes and come away a hero in your clients' eyes.


You have a target on your back. The way AV projects go these days, you were probably brought in later than you should have been and yours will likely be the last face the client sees before they flip the switch on their new AV system. Fair or not, you need to make sure your part of the process goes as smoothly as possible.

Spotting the warning signs that a project is careening down the wrong track can help you steer things back on course. We put it to AV pros, and here are some of the red flags they look out for.

1. Your PM has never installed an AV system.

This one has been debated by AV pros for years. Most people we polled believe a project manager should have real-world experience installing AV systems. A tech-savvy PM knows early on when there are issues that could derail the project. And if a cable needs terminating in a pinch, they can take up the slack.

2. You’re the late-inning relief pitcher.

Sometimes it’s obvious why you were called in to finish someone else’s work. If it isn’t, start digging. Several years ago, Richard O’Connell of AV Design Build in Boston was brought in to finish an audio system for a big recreation center. The design called for a 1,500-pound center cluster, but it wasn’t until he requested and analyzed the structural drawings that he realized the facility hadn’t been built to bear that kind of a load. In the end, the general contractor ponied up for the extra steel and the job came in on time. However, O’Connell says, “You can be sure all my contracts now read, ‘Owner to furnish all structural attachment points.”

3. You’re planning a job costing analysis when you’re finished.

This is a great idea if your goal is to avoid repeating mistakes on the next job, but the job you’re working on could suffer cost overruns from day one. Programs like Microsoft Project incorporate earned-value-analysis features. If you start from a clear project plan, this can offer an ongoing picture of things like the budgeted cost of work scheduled versus the budgeted cost of work performed.

4. You haven’t met with the client lately--or ever.

There may be nothing worse than an end user detailing for you--after you’ve installed a system—all the things you should have done. No one is saying it’s necessarily your fault, but if you’re scheduling ongoing meetings with the people who will eventually be operating the AV systems, you’ll know who might have overpromised so that you don’t inadvertently underdeliver.

5. Your equipment list is scannable.

Unless you’re working on a very small-scale project, it’s probably not a good thing if your parts list can fit on a sheet of paper. Erich Friend, owner of Teqniqal Systems in Fort Worth, Texas, says, “The contractors that have the least problems are the ones that have the most complete shop drawings and parts lists.” They provide a project roadmap and can include equipment models, how much they weigh, when they’ll arrive, how much power they draw and rack space they consume, and how much labor they take to set up. Such a detailed list must be kept up-to-date, and could prove invaluable.

6. An important piece of equipment just arrived by overnight shipping.

Overnight delivery is great. It can make you look like a hero for going that extra mile to get in the systems necessary. Or maybe there was a problem with the vendor or a change order. But when you spring for overnight delivery, not only is it an unforeseen cost, it also could expose a lapse in planning or project management. Someone has to sign for that delivery and then ask, “Why?”

7. You hook up a piece of equipment, smile, and move on to the next task.

Brett Cosor, president of Video Networks in McLean, Va., advocates “a test-as-you-build construction process.” He also recommends doing quality assurance on gear as it comes in. Other integrators ensure systems are installed to relevant code, have proper documentation, and interoperate with other devicesas the installation is happening. Testing everything at the end is crucial, but testing as you go can head off big problems.

8. Your job site is a mess.

It’s not just that a messy room means a messy mind. Depending on the size of your mess, it will take time and money to clean it up—not to mention what it says about your professionalism. Wire clippings, sheetrock dust, tape, loose drop cloths, packaging materials--clean them up as you go.

9. You miss the forest for the trees.

When you solve a problem on an install, take a deep breath and assess the impact of what just happened on the overall project. If you fixed the issue quickly, you’re probably okay. But what if your solution impacts other steps? Ken Ciszewski, a project manager at Tech Electronics in St. Louis, warns, “A major problem early on all too often [leads] to additional problems that are completely unrelated to the first.”

10. You’re building an AV system that uses, well, technology.

Several AV pros said the same thing: This is technology we’re dealing withif something can go wrong, it probably will. Devices fail; gear doesn’t always work right the first time. To the extent you can afford it, have a back-up for everything. As with all these red flags, expect the unexpected.


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