The Qualiverse - Difficult Conversations about Project Delays “due to” Quality
I recently got into an argument with my wife over something relatively small. It was a very busy week at work, and I had two scout leader meetings back-to back immediately after I clocked out for the day. At the first scout meeting, one of the leaders left some forms that I needed to fill out at his house... but since I was going to be running around that evening, I offered to pick them up after my second meeting. No big deal, right? I’m out anyway, and I thought my wife would be asleep by the time I got home. I went to the second meeting, and some of the other leaders and I got to chit-chatting and it went longer than expected. I called to let my wife know that the second meeting wrapped, and she was not asleep as I expected. She sleepily asked if I could pick up some bread on the way home. And here is where I messed up.
Instead of saying that I have to pick something up from Scout Leader #1’s house, I just said, “Sounds great!”. I didn’t want to explain the whole story. It was late. I didn’t think picking something up would take too much longer than picking up bread. I also didn’t want to explain why I was going out of my way to pick something up when someone else forgot something. I thought it would turn into “a thing”, so I went with “Sounds great.” I didn’t factor in Scout Leader #1’s penchant for telling long stories. I happen to enjoy the long stories, and like I said, I really thought my wife would be asleep at this time. As it turns out, mistakes were made. My wife expected me home in 15 minutes, but due to the long stories... and picking up the bread, it took closer to 45. Mistakes were made and lessons were learned. In trying to avoid “a thing” by not explaining the whole scenario, I made it into an even bigger “thing”. What took you so long? I thought the worst! Why didn’t you let me know? And she was completely right. Instead of having a potentially (and barely) difficult conversation at the beginning of the ordeal, it ended up blowing up in my face. It was silly.
AVOIDING THE HARD CONVERSATION
I see elements of this scenario in AV projects all the time! The project manager or field engineer or technician or engineer avoids a potentially difficult conversation with the client or other team members, hoping that it won’t become “a thing”, and it ends up becoming a bigger problem later down the line. A great example of this is not fighting for staging time because of scheduling constraints.
WHY IS STAGING SO IMPORTANT?
I hope we can all agree that staging is a critical project milestone. This is where the entire system is mocked up in the integrator’s shop. Firmware compatibility is finalized. Racks are thoroughly tested. Control code and DSP site files are loaded. Each device and internal rack cabling are confirmed functional. It is said that for every hour spent troubleshooting something during staging, you save three hours in the field. In the shop, technicians have access to all the tools they need. There is good internet connection. The team is present with you to collaborate. There are spare computers, equipment, cables, etc. It’s the proverbial 1:3 Rule. Staging is critical to a project’s profitability, being as efficient as possible once on the client’s site and maintaining the overall timeline.
So, why is it often the first thing on the chopping block when the timeline is at risk?
If the timeline is at risk, or the client is asking to bring in the turnover date, it is even MORE important to perform a thorough staging. We need to have the system configured and working flawlessly in the shop environment where it is the most efficient method of progressing the overall project. If there are no issues, the staging costs you an extra hour per system to complete. If there are issues that, for example, take four hours to troubleshoot... Great! You just saved yourself 12 hours of troubleshooting in the field if we can believe the 1:3 Rule! We need to change the idea that quality assurance processes are wasted time, or expendable milestones. They are critical to the success of the project, and they are even more important when the timeline is tight.
THE COST OF POOR QUALITY IS MASSIVE
Chuck Espinoza, an incredible Staff Instructor from AVIXA, always talks about the “$90 screw”. Imagine being on a job site, about to put up a display mount, and you realize a bolt is missing. The display can’t go up without this bolt. So, what happens? Well, you and your partner can’t finish putting up the display. Productivity is lost. Next, we must find where we can find this bolt near the job site. We’re in luck, and there’s a Home Depot close by. So, we take the company van out of the paid parking lot to drive, or worse, we have to walk to Home Depot. 30 minutes later, we find out that they are out of that particular bolt we need, so we have to find another store nearby. 90 minutes later, we find it at Lowes and are on our way back to the job site, but our partner is onto another task. We have to wait until they finish up and can go back to assist with the original display. In the end, adding up all that wasted time, that 35-cent bolt ends up costing the company $90 or more. That is the cost of poor quality.
I’ll see your $90 screw and raise you the $1,000 firmware upgrade. We’ve all been there. You get to a job site and realize you need to upgrade or downgrade the firmware of a device. At the shop, this would be no problem. Just download the file on the company’s high speed network, pull a spare laptop from stock, set that up with the device, and have it load firmware while you’re off doing other things for the project. However, if you’re in the field, it’s an entirely different story. You only have one laptop, and you’re not allowed on the client’s network. So, you are forced to download the X-GB firmware on a cellular hotspot. You find that if you attempt to do other things while it’s downloading, it slows down the file transfer or interrupts it. This takes hours to download. Then you find out that your hot spot is roaming, and you accidentally go over your allotted monthly bandwidth allowance. Next month’s cell phone bill will be a doozy. (Why would anyone attempt to download a 4 GB file TWICE?!) Then, you must load the firmware to the device which is even more finicky than trying to download it. Needless to say, your only available laptop has to be dedicated to loading firmware to the device... leaving you in a lurch while you babysit the laptop watching the progress bar inch along to 100%. What would have taken you an hour at the shop, took four in the field. Not only that, we lost productivity because we only had one laptop and we were stuck in the water during the entire process. Time in the field, plus lost opportunity time, plus cellular charges for the multiple large downloads can easily put the cost of upgrading firmware in the field at over $1,000. Again, this is the cost of poor quality.
THE IMPACT TO THE CLIENT
And what does all this mean to the client? It’s all well and good to talk about how this hurts the integrator, but how does it affect the technology manager. All this takes time. It takes EXTRA time in the field if systems are shipped out prematurely... that is, without being staged. We can expedite being able to get a laptop on the conference room screen in a very short amount of time. But, the system isn’t complete. The laptop image will look great. However, we still need to balance the audio system, confirm the conferencing system is working, complete the network schedule, ring out the speech reinforcement system, upgrade the firmware on the mixer to get rid of that hiccup, and find that 1-3/4” M8 bolt for the confidence monitor. The laptop might be on the display for that first event, but we still have a LONG way to go before the system is complete. And, it’s going to take the integrator 3x as long to complete all this since we shipped to the site early. Sometimes, you need to slow down to speed up.
WHY FASTER ISN’T BETTER
Clients deal with bad news better than surprises. If a client is requesting that a system which has not been properly staged be delivered immediately to the job site, the risks of this request should be carefully laid out. Put yourself in their shoes. They are most likely under the impression that if the system arrives onsite sooner, the installation will be completed sooner. This is typically not the case at all. At the time of that request, we should point out that our internationally reviewed quality management system is in place to assure they get their systems delivered complete and as efficiently as possible. We should also point out that delivering the system with a proper staging, and thereby skipping a critical quality assurance milestone, will more than likely (albeit, counterintuitively) increase the overall installation time of the project. Additionally, we should point out that if any issues pop up on site (and they always do), troubleshooting those issues in their room will take roughly 3x as long as troubleshooting them in our shop. If the importance of the staging milestone is laid out along these lines, many clients will realize what they are asking for is penny-wise but pound-foolish. It might not be the most comfortable conversation to have with a client, but it is much better than surprising them with a new turnover date two weeks past the original deadline. I would encourage you to be forthright and transparent with your clients. Never delay delivering difficult news or hide facts. And then once the band-aid is ripped off, explain the positives of taking this approach and why it will ultimately benefit them and their users. I only wish I followed my own advice with my wife. I would have avoided having the covers viciously (and a little playfully) stolen from me at 2am for avoiding a simple conversation about picking up some merit badge blue cards. It’s always better to just have the conversation, difficult or not.
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