|Anthony Grimani (firstname.lastname@example.org) is
president of Performance Media Industries,
with offices in Novato and San Anselmo, CA.
I am standing in my backyard in disbelief,
looking at the partially complete fence
that I asked a contractor to build to
keep the ravenous Northern California
deer from eating my priceless heirloom
tomatoes. These deer are gymnasts.
They can jump over a 6-foot fence from
a standing position all day long, especially
if a salad buffet is open on the other side.
My disbelief comes from the fact that
the fence ended up being different from
what we agreed upon. The contractor
had showed me a picture on his iPhone
that was exactly what I wanted: a nice,
simple fence. What he built was totally
different…time to disassemble and start
What went wrong here? It wasn’t
communication. We were clear about
what was to be built, and he even proposed the design! The problem was
documentation. In my haste to get back to the office to continue designing
the world’s top home cinemas, I failed to draw the agreed-upon fence
design. I should know better. If you don’t document what is supposed to
get built, someone will find a way to mess it all up, then blame you for not
making up your mind in time.
If building a simple fence can go this far wrong without documentation,
how can you expect a sophisticated, world-class integration project
to go right without documentation? You can’t. Yet, I see project after
project where the wiring documentation is non-existent, the automation
specifications are nowhere to be found, the grounding and power systems
have no forethought, and the ventilation and cooling schemes are Rube
Goldberg crossed with the board game Mousetrap. As a result, clients are
always complaining that their systems don’t turn on when they want, fail
all the time, latch up randomly, don’t sound good, or don’t look sharp.
Don’t Force the Field Techs to Wing It
|If building a simple fence installation can go wrong without documentation, how can you expect a sophisticated, world-class integration project to go right without documentation?
It often comes down to the basics: insufficient preparation, engineering,
and documentation. The techs in the field have to figure it out on the fly,
often basing what they do on the last project they did like this one, but not
knowing that this one is, in fact, totally different. What the sales person
promised was different. The products and switching are different. The
power and grounding are different. The price points, the schedules, and
the deliverables are different. The automation functions are different…
Then the techs have to take twice the time to redo the wiring looms until
it all works right. All the while, the principals of the company have to pay
for the re-work. Sound familiar?
We all know that integrating and automating a system with 10 sources,
12 zones, and multiple displays all running HDMI is really complicated if
you want all the sophistication and reliability that our clients have come to
expect from their luxury goods. So how do you go about delivering on the
expectations without going broke re-working every project? Simple: Invest
in planning and documentation at the start of the project. Then make sure
that everyone follows the documents and specifications. That should make
a huge difference. All the successful companies in our business discovered
this long ago. All commercial projects require this. Do our clients deserve
I have, at times, done the forensics to figure out where system failures
originate. The results can be amazing. Sometimes, because of insufficient
information, an automation programmer spends time writing code that
doesn’t account for all the conditions of use. It then needs Band-Aid upon
Band-Aid to make it work right, but the code isn’t fully tested so it latches
up. It’s not fully tested because the programmer, going above and beyond
the call of duty, spun wheels trying to get non-existent documentation
or circuit diagrams and couldn’t figure out what was tied together in the
system. Then everyone is sore because the project isn’t successful, it’s
over budget, the client is calling all the time threatening to sue you and
the automation equipment company, and everyone is wasting valuable
energy and time. Once in a while, it’s all because the power sources are
inconsistent, with unreliable ground conditions, and data gets dropped
because of bad hum.
You can avoid all this by hiring a company that does nothing but
design and documentation work. There are quite a few around in the
CEDIA space. Look at the professional resources section listings in the
CEDIA directory for more info. Some of these specialize in electrical
system design, others in automation design and documentation, and still
others in cinema design and acoustics. Pick the right ones to partner with
and watch your overhead in non-billable re-work go right down. Plus you
can bill the design work at a profit. Imagine that!
Chase Walton contributed to this column.