Mapping Out Your Project Management Strategy

So you’ve done all the legwork and landed that exciting, lucrative installation project you so avidly bid on. However, your real work is just beginning.

It’s imperative to consider the sequence of construction cycles as it pertains to your installation and project management. Successful security contractors understand the flow of the construction process, the gestation cycle and all the strategic planning that goes into it.

By now, the scope of your project has been agreed upon and the basic layout has been determined, which includes components that need to be incorporated into the design. Your time schedule should be validated for synchronization with the demands made by your client and all of the other projects you have on your plate. During this stage, the down payment is agreed upon and the payment milestones are posted.

As a precaution, review your preconstruction meetings notes just prior to getting started and confirm the proposal is matched appropriately to the budget, scope of the project and facility. Be aware that the client’s perception of what needs to be done is often larger than their budget allows. Be ready to create a change order and to accurately document diversions from the original agreement.

In order to be considered a valuable subcontractor, you will need to effectively integrate yourself with other subs. You will also have to properly document everything in order to protect yourself and get paid according to plan. All this starts with an accurate assessment of your client’s needs. You should have received your first payment before getting started. If you haven’t received it, insist on your payment due. Set your precedents now.

Building Rapport With Others Is Paramount for a Smooth Project
As most successful systems integrators know, a healthy relationship with other subcontractors is critical. On typical jobsites, the low-voltage integrators are usually the newcomers and, therefore, the least trusted by others.

Pay particular attention to the electrician. A little ambassador-like effort goes a long way. Many turf wars that cost the project time and money can be avoided if the project manager spends a little time and effort with him or her at the beginning of the project.

Make sure you get the contact information for each subcontractor. This includes their name, phone number and E-mail address. Often, you’ll find you will need to contact them during the project or sometime thereafter.

Take Advantage of Tools That Pit Resources Against Timeline
Proper management is critical to the success of a project. Your project manager should have the correct perspective on how this installation blends in with other projects on your books. The project manager should be well aware of how much surplus or deficient labor you’ll be facing during the completion of all your projects.

Consider organization tools that lay resources against your timeline. For example, determine how many integrators you will need per day during the entire job. There are a number of generally recognized project management techniques that are widely used in the industry, which will help with your planning. Consider any of the techniques below, as any or all will suffice.

Program evaluation review techniques (PERT) charts — These feature a list of projects on the right side of the chart and the left lists each stage and shows who is responsible for each.

Gant charts — This is a list of tasks, including the timing that each needs to be completed and who’s responsible for each. It’s good for resource allocation, as it examines the critical paths.

Planning — This is general project planning to make sure that all resources are allocated appropriately and the project goes smoothly.

Navigating Construction Cycle Requires Knowing Others’ Roles
In addition to your own general scheduling, your project manager must have at least a basic understanding of how your client’s other subcontractors complement the project, including the role they play during the entire schedule. When done properly, low-voltage cabling and systems will be roughed in just before the insulation is installed and after all of the other subcontractors have completed their work.

The first item to be completed in the construction cycle is the foundation, including basements and retaining walls. The walls going up and roof framing follow this. Then, the rough-in services are brought to the demarcations. Some of the many rough-in services that you’ll have to consider include the following:

  • Gas — Gas rough-in requires special piping that must be pressurized before the rough-in is considered complete. The installation crew has zero to no experience about low-voltage networks and will not be very careful with your cabling.
  • Electrical — The electrician and their crew can be either a great help or an incredible pain. There are many instances in our industry where you must rely on the electrical contractor to bring in the circuits that you need.
  • Plumbing — Plumbers who pull drain and water pipes, along with big bulk items such as the water heater, can damage your cable if they don’t pay attention.
  • Mechanicals — These include HVAC, ductwork and interconnect work, which can take up enormous sections of crawlspace that you need. Once again, they can also damage your installed wires if they don’t pay attention.
  • Low-voltage and structured wire network (telephony, data and distributed audio) — This may be installed by you or the audio/video integrator. Often, these wires and your wires are pulled at the same time, which could result in turf wars. A good project manager will understand this and plan to work side-by-side with the A/V guy.
  • Cable TV — Once the cable is pulled, walk the site and confirm that all the cable is marked and protected from the sheet rockers by tucking the cable into the walls and junction boxes with the appropriate service loops for access later. Provide novice installers with standards to perform to. The sheet rock trade is labor intensive and is basically awarded to the lowest bidder, thus their incentive is to execute and run. The saving and protection of your cable is not on their radar screen, so you must manage it for yourself. Make sure that the appropriate protection is in place. This will save time later.
  • Sewers — This is an extension of the plumbing; for example, making sure that all the drain work is done correctly. It’s simply another subcontractor that you need to be aware of. If this contractor does not get to the project site before you, then there will be issues that will cause you headaches. At this stage, your team’s documentation skills will play a large role in the future efficiencies on the project. Make certain that all the components are delivered on time. Do not wait and assume that you will be able to get all the parts you need the week of the trim out. This is also the time to start “stitching” the rack assemblies back at your shop.

    When all of this is complete, it is time for the occupancy permit to be issued and the client to take possession. This is a large issue for the general contractor because it is a milestone that is rewarded with a large check. Well-organized integrators will do th
    eir part in enabling this to happen within the expected timeframes.

    Testing and Training Are Critical Finishing Touches to Installation
    During the final installation of the equipment, you’ll be bringing in all the expensive components and displays. Remember not to leave any material unattended. Stolen goods will cost you money, cause delays and anger other subcontractors waiting to get paid.

    As you complete the installation and programming, remember to finish your installation with these critical items:

  • Troubleshooting – Make sure the control systems work as expected and that the control reports are accurate.

  • Testing – Beat on the system to make sure it does not lock up and that the timing and delay codes are accurate.

  • Client training on the subsystems – Usually there is one person who signs off on the system. However, this is not necessarily the person who will be operating it. Train all the people who will use it.

    • Internal project review – Conduct a follow-up report. For example, did the project go as expected? Were there any surprises? Were there any problems with any other subcontractors? Create a profitability report.

    Throughout the entire design and installation process, it is important to continuously measure and tweak your operations. Never stop monitoring the installation. Ask questions such as: Does your installation crew have the right tools? Are they able to make good decisions?

    Coordinating With Other Trades Can Expedite Getting Paid

    An experienced integrator understands how the money flows to both the general contractor and to all the subcontractors. Primarily, getting paid is based on project milestones being met.

    Often, you’ll have to deal with contracting delays, which then delay money getting into your pocket. The trick is to smooth-out conflicts and hang-ups in a timely fashion. You can facilitate this by anticipating what other contractors are going through. Make sure you understand their schedules, and then dig in your heels when necessary. Deal with conflict as soon as you’re aware of it.

    For example, if the cabinetmaker builds the wrong size cabinet, call it out immediately. By the same token, if you have delays in your work, make sure everyone knows about it. This goes a long way for your rapport building.

    Keep the buyer clear on expectations, and then stick to it. If anything goes wrong, address the critical issues with the buyer and enable them to give their views.

    Proper Documentation Resolves Disputes, Minimizes Liability

    Throughout the project, you’ll be responsible for adhering to multiple documents. Some of these that you must pay particular attention to include the following:

    • Proposals and change orders – Have good discipline by accurately documenting everything. Your change orders can be very different from your first set of plans.

    • Local building codes – These can vary from city to city, so you’ll need to be up to speed at every location. Also learn what inspectors look for. Get to know them by taking them to breakfast.

    • Warrantees – Understand when the manufacturer warranty starts. It could be when it is purchased, when the equipment is installed or when the client first uses it. Make sure you’re fair to your client. Also, realize that sometimes you have to modify the equipment. You need to know exactly how such action affects the warranty.

    • Instruction or product manuals– These need to be assembled in a comprehensive package for the client’s archival. Also, you should maintain the manuals as well. You may find that manufactures might not keep them as their products are discontinued.

    • Service provider documents – These include service for the phone, voice, data and telephony. Make sure, for example, that your dialers are compatible with the service providers.

    • Subcontractors– You may find that you need to sub-out work. Make sure you have accurate records of them and their project manager just in case you need to reach them in the future.

    • As-built documents – This is an analysis to determine if your actual installation reflected the original plans.

    In addition to the above, you will need to pay attention to architectural plans and system diagrams (see sidebar on page 82), as well as certain compatibility standards (see sidebar on page 84).

    Determine Who Has the Power to Authorize Change Orders

    Change order forms are basic descriptions of the changes that must be made to the original scope of the project. They need to include what the change was (the variance from the original agreement) and how the change was implemented.

    Before any changes are made, make sure to establish the lines of authority (who can increase project scope). You need to be very clear about this. Your change order form should always include a signature line for authorization.

    Effective Project Management Can Lead to New Business

    Armed with a solid understanding of the construction process, you will win big by demonstrating your ability to effectively integrate yourself with other subcontractors. Additional payoffs come in the form of referrals from this project. These referrals can come from both the client and other subcontractors that you work with.

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