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Project management: value engineering

Having previously broken down the different elements that make up a successful project, here Steve Montgomery considers budget and functional expectations as well as how value engineering can be applied in AV.

Communicating with the customer or client is an essential part of the project manager’s role. This is becoming more problematic as AV converges more with IT. “As more and more AV systems become IT-centric, for both content delivery and system control, there is a growing need for the IT department to ‘buy in’ to a new solution. Consequently it is essential for the right people from the client side to be involved in the planning and implementation of these types of project, and it is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure that this happens,” explains Patrick Stewart-Blacker, managing director of Visual Acuity. “We have seen situations in which the IT architecture, or the IT team, won’t support the deployment of AV distribution systems over the in-house IT network, either because of bandwidth, security or logistic reasons. Finding out early what type of equipment and technology is acceptable can be a project-saver, but needs to be addressed.”

Budget and functional expectations are another critical area that require direct communication and client endorsement. “We have moved away from functional to feature specifications based on specific equipment capabilities when consulting about system requirements,” he says, “since it narrows down an unjustified and unachievable level of expectation. Although it can open up the claim that we are not being equipment-agnostic, it prevents the expectation that the system will be able to do everything the client wants, and more. It also prevents final installations looking like a toyshop: many separate devices with a mix of functions that are not fully integrated together.”

While many projects, especially larger ones, are strictly specified through detailed tenders, in practice the final delivered system may be somewhat different. An aspect of this is ‘value engineering’, a term that has many connotations. Roland Hemming, consultant at RH Consulting explains: “Value engineering is a term created by the construction industry. What happens is that early in the project someone estimates budget lines for each element. Then the prices come in. Value engineering is the process of trying to make the quotations match that previous estimate. From a financial perspective this seems fine, but this piecemeal approach doesn’t force the budget holders to take a step back and check that they are still achieving the aims and objectives of the project in its entirety. We’ve seen systems value engineered where the replacement system is worse than what was there originally.”

Once a contract has been awarded, vendors and suppliers should work together to identify areas in which the result can be improved above the original concept and specification. AV integrators can advise on new technology and identify areas where features envisaged by the user are not feasible or practical.

Another consideration is change brought about either by a shift in the desires of customers or, equally likely, through the obsolescence or upgrading of equipment – something particularly pertinent in the rapidly evolving AV industry. Paul Stevens, senior project manager, Reflex comments: “One instance I can remember is during a classroom install. Seven months after the scope of works, there was a specification change to the hardware. We’d allowed for futureproofing the infrastructure and connectivity but the fast pace of developments of AV hardware – in this particular instance interactive technologies – meant that the specification of kit changed, with the result that the installation had to be amended.”

Building changes

Often problems will be unforeseen but caused by uncommunicated changes to the fabric of the building. One integrator recalls a recent example: “The architect had made design changes and added a bulkhead just where our projector was due to go. This resulted in a change to projector and screen specifications, with the knock-on effect of restocking fees, costs for revisits and squeezed timescales and profitability for this installation contract.”

Even the best-specified and managed projects can encounter problems. Early and open dialogue between the parties to resolve the issues, rather than apportion blame, usually leads to a better outcome. It should be in everyone’s best interest to deal with them quickly and efficiently, as Mark Tildesley, collaboration director at AV distributor Maverick, sums up: “We understand that there are often problems with projects. The nature of the AV installation sector at the end of the chain means that they are likely to have dire consequences – sometimes resulting in highly visible failures that can prevent opening of a facility on time. We aim to support our customers and endeavour to resolve situations with whatever is possible first, then establish the reasons why and how, no matter whose fault it actually was.”