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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

What a frickin' cluster!

Posted on August 26, 2011 at 11:45 AM

While I’d certainly like to build up my profession as a custom installer and make it seem like what I do is SO difficult and strenuous and mentally taxing and requiring brain-surgeon-level-expertise, the truth is, most times, it really isn’t. There is way more monotony of "Black wire to black connection, red wire to red connection..." than any real rocket science.

Sure there are those daunting times when you walk onto a new 12,000 square foot, blank canvas job site and are faced with that moment of, “OK, what are we gonna do here?” And then when you return to see a trunkline of wiring that looks like it could run the NY subway system, and then when you are troubleshooting code on a program. Sure, those things can be tough. But, for the most part, like any other job, once you do it enough, it becomes fairly straight forward, SOP. Pull this wire from here to there. Trim this wire out in this manner. Connect to this piece. Configure the system in this way. A tweak here and there and then done. Whatever it is, work the problem one wire at a time and it isn’t too overwhelming.

But what ultimately makes a job go well is not necessarily what equipment the client picked, not the size of their budget, not the cool factor of the gear, and not the ingenious design of your control GUI. Not. Ultimately a job going well comes down to the coordination and the flow.

There are a lot of little gears and cogs and trades that all need to turn and mesh for a job to flow smoothly. Sure, at the end of the day – eventually, whenever that day may come – the job WILL ultimately get finished. But at the end, what keeps it from all falling apart into a giant, seething stress ball is someone that can handle the project management. The framers, the electricians, the plumbers, the carpenters, the painters, the pool installer, and us, the all-mighty A/V installer.

A lot of it boils down to scheduling.

We are working on three jobs right now that are all coming apart in their own little ways. Two of the jobs are residential projects where the biggest problem is the homeowners themselves. They have both got it into their heads that they will – by God and for the love of all that is holy! – that THEY WILL be moving into their homes by Labor Day. "Why this arbitrary day?" you ask. “Surel they’re being evicted from their other homes!” you say. “They’ll have nowhere else to live comes Monday the 5th of September?” you ponder.  No. They both have other homes in the area.

“Well then they are small jobs, right, where they just want to tidy up the little details and move in?” you postulate. No. These are both MASSIVE jobs. Easily $1.5MM each. I’m not exactly sure why Labor Day has been chosen as the deadline, but it has. And all hell is breaking loose on the jobs – trades literally tripping over one another trying to get their little piece of the puzzle completed – to try and accommodate this request.

But when you rush-rush the very end of the project – the part where people are carefully doing the trim and detail work that you actually notice – what you end up with is rushed and sloppy work. Sure , they might get it “done” and move in, but to get themselves into the home 2-3 weeks early, they are going to live in a home with poor finish work for 5…10…15+ years. Stupid.

I looked at one of the jobs yesterday. We’re scheduled to deliver around $60k worth of gear to the home on Monday. Yesterday the floor in the media room was still just a concrete slab. Lights not up. Trades still cutting wood for trim and molding so it can be installed and then stained and painted. But, the builder says that he will have the carpet in our media room and A/V closet installed on Saturday and that we should plan on coming full steam on Monday. So, plan we do.

Then we have the total cluster of a commercial project. For some reason, they have appointed the company comptroller as the job’s project manager. Which has resulted in what I believe is one of the worst managed projects I have *ever* been involved with. I should have known that this guy was going to be weak sauce to work with when I never heard back from him for 2 months after giving my proposal and then leaving multiple e-mail and phone call follow-ups. One day another guy comes into the office and asks if we could come out and look at the job.

“Look at it?” says I with incredulity. “I’ve already walked through the site, come up with a system design and sent over a full proposal. I followed up multiple times and never heard back so I figured you just went with someone else.” End of story, we get the job.

And it is a constant series of changes with vague, non-information answers. “Oh, we want to add TVs now.”

“OK. What do you want to show on them? Cable, a DVD, some computer presentation, a mouth cam?”

“Why does it matter? We just want to wire for a TV.”

“Exactly. And I need to know what wire to pull TO the TV. And from where to pull it.”

Then its, “Oh, we want to have computers connected to all the TVs.”

“OK. What’s the video output from the computer?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, is it VGA or HDMI?”

“Why does it matter?”

“Well, those are different cables and I either pull one or I pull the other.”

Then after we were finished it was a constant change of locations. “We changed our minds. The TVs are moving to here. And the computers are moving to there.”

No problem. We are custom and we accommodate change. So we finish our wiring – on July 5 to be exact – and I’ve been sending e-mails to the guy ever since. “When are you ready for us to come and trim?” “When should we plan on finishing?” “I need to get you on the schedule for install.” All ignored. I'm figuring they are a place a business and would be eager to open, but clearly I'm wrong. So one day he finally calls and says we need to get the job scheduled. Great, says I. Been wanting to. So we pick a date two weeks henceforth (this past Monday). “I’m gonna have my full crew fall out on it for three days. We’ll knock it out!”

So we block off the dates on the calendar, schedule the crew and all show up Monday morning and… The job is nowhere near ready. The ceiling grid has been torn down. The walls are just mudded. There are piles and piles – and PILES – of crap and construction debris in every room. It is a total wash. I tell the guy, “Look, there’s no way we can install today.”

“Yeah. I know. Sorry.”

“Well, you could have called us when you knew that it wasn’t going to be ready.”

“It’s just been real busy around here.”

“Well I’ve got three guys standing here that are scheduled for three days to come and finish your job and now I need to scramble to find something else for them to do.”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

So then yesterday a guy from the job shows up at my store. “We need you to come and pull more wire.”

“To where? For what?”

“They want to add more TVs.”

So I show up this morning at 9 AM to walk through and the job is in exactly the same state of disrepair that it was on Monday. Mr. No Idea shows me the spots where they want to add wires.

“We need wiring here.”

“What kind of wire?”

“Wire. Just wire.”

“For what?”

“A touchscreen.”

“What kind of touchscreen?”

“I don’t know; I just need wire here.”

“Look, is it a Cat5, is it two or maybe THREE Cat5? Does it need video? The wrong wire is as good as no wire at all. And where does the wire need to originate from?” Oh, and there are four locations of that.

Then we come to this X-ray room. There  is going to be some kind of mag locking door system. “We need a wire here.”

“For what?”

“A switch.”

“What kind of switch?”

“Look, I don’t know, and I’ve got to go. People are waiting on me. You just need to put a wire here.”  And then off he toodles to go and probably wreak some confusion somewhere else.

So the construction foreman looks at me. “What do you think the mag lock needs?”

So, what that all leaves me with is having two near 6-figure jobs that are both racing to complete -- both right on the day that I'm leaving for CEDIA by the by -- and another that looks like it wants to be finish and open...right while I'm away at CEDIA! How wondefully and deliciously stressful!

Oy vey! Me smells a disaster a brewin’. I hear that bourbon and disaster mix beautifully.

Categories: August 2011, CTA, Rants

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Reply Kirk
1:42 PM on August 26, 2011 
I've always wondered, when you provide commentary on certain clients, have any of them ever read your comments about them and commented/called/screamed/sued/etc back?
Reply Pat Molettieri
9:51 PM on August 30, 2011 
After reading this I just had to laugh at how much some of these people have no clue. I had a commercial job that the CFO was the one in charge and then passed it off to the IT Manager. This was just a single room VC system that they had no clue to begin with and the IT Manager wanted nothing to do with it even though we were playing in his world but they wanted to push 1080P content around as well as do HD VC. John I definitely need to buy you a drink at CEDIA just for the amount of laughs and good humor that I get after reading your blogs.