I recently attended the Azione Fall dealer conference, during which I was asked to moderate a breakout session about a widespread challenge in the industry: how to close out the last 5 percent of a project. The session was comprised of integrators of various sizes from all over the country; nevertheless, the thoughts shared during this session were remarkably consistent. Reflecting back on the great ideas exchanged, it is clear that the keys to a smooth project closeout can be placed into three main categories.
It Starts with the Scope
When it comes to closing out a project, a detailed scope-of-work statement is one of the most important documents you can have in your arsenal. Yet for many integrators, the scope of work is little more than a room-by-room version of the proposal. The problem is that these bills of material are of little use in helping your clients understand the kind of critical details that come into play during the final phase of a project.
With proper systems in place and an emphasis on clear communication and excellent service, your clients will understand that, while the last 5 percent may take some time, they are in good hands.
Especially on longer projects, clients are unlikely to remember details like whether they opted to have the guest bedroom display mounted, or if the family room cable box will pass audio through the house system. Last minute changes on these types of details are a major cause of projects dragging on unnecessarily.
A well crafted scope goes a long ways toward avoiding these sorts of issues. The most effective scope statements avoid techno-babble and make use of visuals and/or tables to convey inclusions and exclusions in a way that even the least tech-savvy reader can easily follow. Although a scope can’t prevent a client from changing their mind at the 11th hour, they can ensure that everyone is on the same page heading into the critical home stretch of a project.
Another significant challenge to successfully closing out a project results from clients not understanding the nature of systems commissioning. Working out programming bugs, making adjustments based on user preference, performing calibrations, and conducting user training all take time.
Getting these final steps right requires iteration and user feedback. If not explained correctly, your client may perceive this important process as a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. Putting systems in place–for example, a schedule of lighting program adjustments at predefined intervals–will help your clients understand that they are being shepherded through an important fine-tuning process instead of groping blindly for an elusive finish line.
Set the Stage for Service
Finally, setting up a seamless transition into the service phase is key to a smooth project closeout. This process should start at the earliest phase of the client relationship. By communicating early and often about the importance you place on service, you drive home an important message: that far from the sign of an incomplete project, the need for maintenance and upkeep is part of the deal and something you pride yourself on providing.
An effective service transition requires tight collaboration on the punch list. Project teams, service teams, and management must all be in lockstep about the work remaining to be done and whose responsibility it will be to do it.
Maintain clear and consistent communication with your client during the service transition. Regular correspondence will give your client peace of mind and allow you to provide reminders about areas where you are blocked from making progress–for example, waiting on decisions or on progress from other trades.
Unlike other trades such as painters and plumbers, where “done” is easy to define, home technology systems are much more of a moving target. The highly complicated nature of these projects makes the project closeout especially challenging. The unfortunate reality is that, even if you execute flawlessly on 95 percent of the project, if you fail to complete the punch list and deliver on service, that is all your client will remember. The good news is that with proper systems in place and an emphasis on clear communication and excellent service, your clients will understand that, while the last 5 percent may take some time, they are in good hands.