I love to play guitar. I’ve been a guitarist almost my whole life. I’m always looking out for classic amps and have a collection of guitars hanging in my home that I play regularly. But no matter how much I practice and how much I try to sound just like the greats, I can always hear the little subtleties that make them different and put it just out of reach for me. I can purchase the exact same equipment they play, from the amps to the pedals to their actual guitar, and I just can’t replicate the sound exactly. There is artistry to being a musician and the touch of the artist comes through in the best performances.
It’s the same in our business to some extent. Different integrators can install the same exact equipment, with the same connectors and same rack, but for some the result will be a little different. It might be in reliability or it might be in profitability.
In our business, unlike in music or art, it all comes down to process. Large manufacturing companies will spend millions of dollars with consulting firms to implement Business Process Re-engineering projects or Six Sigma manufacturing disciplines. These are basically just processes that allow the company to grow and improve while reducing errors and imperfections.
Similarly, in our businesses we need to ensure that we have processes in place. While every project and every client is custom, there are “rules” that can be implemented that ensure consistency in the delivery of the project. It can be as simple as the height for TVs of different sizes (ie. all 65-inch TVs are mounted with the bottom edge 38 inches from the floor, all 55-inch TVs are 40 inches from the floor, etc.). Similarly, how is a rack built? What goes on the bottom shelf? What’s next? How much space between an AVR and a cable box (two big heat generators)? Or during a pre-wire, how much wire is to be left coming out of each location—12 inches? 18 inches? 24 inches? It matters; if you leave too little, then terminations are difficult. If you leave too much, you are wasting money on every single wire pull. How far are labels to be placed from the end of a wire? There needs to be enough space to terminate the wire, but not too much that it becomes hard to locate the label. How far should speakers be from the TV? How far should in-ceiling speakers be from each other in multi-room audio situations?
Anything that can be standardized in our everyday work should be standardized, so that techs and installers on-site don’t have as many questions. Less time is spent trying to make the small decisions, and everything goes more smoothly.
Obviously some things are not as easy to standardize, like TV heights—furniture needs to be accounted for, different rooms need different heights (bedrooms vs. living rooms vs. kitchens) and client preferences. But for things that clients never see, like wire lengths, rack builds, AVR configurations, and networking settings (particularly static IP addresses), there should be standards that are used throughout the company so that everyone can work more efficiently and troubleshooting will go smoother. These types of details are what separate the great integration firms from the merely good ones.
What are some examples of the standards that you’ve set for your design and installation process? I’d love for you to share in the comments section below.