Monday, March 10, 2008

Live Sound International Article- Mayberry

What We Expect

Written by John Mayberry

Working for a new magazine is a bit like buying a new coffee pot and watching it percolate for the first time. You’re compelled to plug it in, watch it boil, take a deep breath, and taste the final product- preferably alone so you can concentrate on the whole process. Once you’re assured it works as intended, it becomes more of a routine, just like commissioning an audio system.

My latest pet peeve involves our customers. Our industry has spent years trying to sort out our processes, like packing a stadium’s worth of audio equipment into half a semi, charging a third of what we did thirty years ago, and making good sound in abominable spaces twenty minutes after arriving.

We’ve yet to any similar improvement on the customer’s side of the fence at all during this time.

A colleague recently emailed, “I’d like to rant about ignorant customers that couldn’t project manage themselves out of a paper bag, employ idiots that cannot be bothered to be at the right place at crucial times (like when a system gets installed), don’t keep other parties on the same schedule they set for us, do diddly squat to make sure that the infrastructure on site was even NEAR to ready, stopped us from having direct contact with anyone on site before we got there, didn’t have anyone with any inkling of project management on site during our install, and 8 weeks after we install a system, during which time they changed from one media provider (that we knew would never be able to make the media work) to another lot that appears to be more knowledgeable try to give me 30 minutes notice for a “mandatory teleconference”, expect me to send a crew to site with 36 hours notice the last working day before the Xmas break (because they might just be at a point where they could conceivably actually SHOW something on the screens we hung up for them), and bitch that we don’t seem to be overly committed to getting the project closed out…. Could I just rant about that for a bit? Coz if I don’t do it now, it’s going to happen when they call me a little later for another unscheduled, mandatory conference call with 3 minutes notice. Actually, scrap that last bit – it doesn’t matter much if I rant about it now, because I am most certainly going to rant about it AGAIN later on.”

Other than spell check the word diddly (curiously omitted from my computer’s list of words) I think he pretty much got it spot on.

There’s always a whiff of Master and Slave in any contractual relationship; he who has the gold has always made the rules and always will. And true, the shorter the relationship the more pronounced the illness in many cases. Yet we aren’t living in the age of green Altec amplifiers and white lab coats anymore; many of our industry’s greatest challenges are on the client’s side of the equation now. All of this got me to thinking. Every time we receive a contract it delineates the client’s expectations, but nowhere does it list of the OUR needs. Where better than in this forum to list them?What We Want in a Contract

Provide a signed contract prior to starting the work on a timely basis. This should have a detailed list of deliverables, quality expectations, and a realistic and achievable schedule. Every contract must include a payment schedule, with no lame “pay if paid” clauses, no temporary work authorizations, no signature delay excuses, no last minute legal/insurance flatus, and no ridiculous contractual “death clauses” buried in the fine print.
Don’t take 3 months to sign a bit of paper all the while eating into a 5 month project schedule. The more time you give us, the more likely you are to get a well designed, tested, burned-in, and ready to install solution.

If you want Errors & Omissions insurance, pay for it.

Consider giving your vendor a small percentage “up front” payment. They can then buy the tools needed for your project rather than stretch the worn out one’s from the last project. In the long run it won’t cost you anything, and you’ll end up with a better product.

Provide an project manager who is scrupulous about keeping track of all the many different threads of a project, keeps track of timing and has good scheduling abilities; has a capacity for learning; a capability for listening; a good dose of general knowledge and experience; understanding of human nature. A willingness to make statements that might not be popular and an understanding of the disciplines involved are just some of the things that might make for a good project manager. Some experience in the field might prove useful as well, remembering that common sense and a willingness to understand and learn goes a long way.

Don’t always go with the lowest bid. Trust me on this one; it’s the same logic as warning a friend not to bottom feed at the local pickup bar. There will be ramifications; maybe as soon as tomorrow morning. Cheapest rarely means best; hire someone you’d be proud to introduce to your mother.

Consider spending 15% more on that you accounted for in your original lowball estimate rather than 10% less. Electronics give you the best bang for the buck of anything in your facility.
If something goes wrong on your project, don’t try and squeeze your vendors to make up for it. Hold the responsible person accountable, even if it’s you.

It’s OK to be well mannered and polite. Remember roles reverse pretty quickly in this business. It may be you on the other side of the table next year.

Projects end, and so should paperwork. Provide an acceptance letter stating, “They have finished, and I am satisfied”. You can even add the phrase “and they did a good job” even if your lawyers nix the idea.

If you want maintenance on an installed system, agree to it up front. That will allow your vendor to build hooks into your system for remote access and take a more personalized responsibility for its long term success.

Some projects get badly screwed up through no fault of your audio vendor. We will try to help you get back on schedule, but don’t ask us to compress a month’s worth of work into an afternoon. We will all regret it eventually.

Finally, pay your bills on time. Signing a contract does not automatically entitle you to interest free access to your audio vendor’s credit line for six months. Doing all of these will result in higher quality workmanship give you the attention you undoubtedly deserve.