Regardless of the control system brand, custom programming projects face scheduling challenges. Simply by their nature, custom A/V and control systems require closer attention than simpler, standard systems. Whether we’re programming for Crestron, AMX or Extron we expect to keep on schedule and deliver on time. Part of our sales process is to outline the project timeline and estimated completion date. Of course the project schedule is based heavily on the information we’re provided by the dealer or integrator (our customer). The installers have to integrate and test the vast majority of the project before we can come onsite and begin loading the program, configuring the hardware and commissioning the system. While the installers are building out the physical system, we’re in the office, building the software to make everything work together. As long as the system installation is ready by our agreed upon date, we’ll be there with the software ready to go. But lately we’ve had a few projects where the project timeline was pushed out of control due to installation and hardware issues. That coupled with poor communication puts us in a bad situation.
Poor Project Management Causes Problems
We schedule our team to be ready and available for the dates that we’ve agreed upon with the customer. Usually we’ll schedule the first onsite date then plan for an appropriate number of days to be on the job. These days are agreed upon by everyone. When the project schedule falls apart it creates two distinct problems for us. First, we’ve planned to be on the job for those days. Now that the job isn’t ready for us we have to scramble to use those days as productively as possible for other projects. That’s usually not the biggest problem as we always have plenty to be working on. The second problem is much worse. As a result of the schedule being extended, now we have the challenge of scheduling new days to be onsite. Most often, we’re already booked to be on other jobs.
This happened on a recent project where the installers pushed the schedule about 60 days. By the time they were ready for us to come onsite it was 2 months later than expected and we were booked on other jobs. Not only that, but they were expecting us to be there just days after letting us know they finally had the system ready. During the months we were waiting we were unable to get schedule updates from the customer and therefore unable to plan accordingly. The bottom line is that the customer had to wait for us to finish up a few other things so that we could switch back to their job. It was an uncomfortable situation, but there wasn’t much else we could do.
Project Management Solutions That We Can’t Do
Lately we’ve been trying to improve our project management process to better adapt to potential scheduling issues like this. But in the end, the only way we’d be able to accommodate massive schedule changes and last minute requests would be to have extra programmers on staff who are always idle and maintaining availability. Obviously that’s not feasible. Another option would be to double book projects like airlines do with passengers. They often double book people knowing that some percentage will cancel. Then when they are confronted with overbooking issues (like not having enough seats) they deal with it. We could do that, double book onsite days, then flake on someone if nobody cancels on us. That would certainly prevent us from having unexpected holes in the schedule, but that’s certainly not the type of customer service we’re interested in being known for.
Ultimately, our customers simply need to recognize the importance of making and keeping schedules. Like any successful service business, we live and die by the calendar, and our custom A/V integrators need to do the same.