This is my first post on this side of the fence. It is going to appear as an attack on the world I lived in for the past 24 years. That world being the cutthroat industry of contracting, specifically low voltage AV contracting. But please, if you might be a contractor reading this, keep reading, you might get a kick out of what I have to say.
My career working for contractors started while I was attending school at Carnegie Mellon University. I was studying Theatrical Lighting and Sound Design and had every intention of following up that very conservative education with a career in live theater. Oh, how the wind blows. During the summer of my 3rd and 4th year I took a job with a local Pittsburgh contractor Edward Simon and Company. Now, Ed was and still is the goto guy for, among other things, church sound systems in the Pittsburgh area. I learned a lot from my time there. I must have assisted in installations on several dozen churches one summer. Another summer I spent most of my time in the basement of the shop installing 70V transformers onto over 4000 ceiling speakers for what is now Progressive Field in Cleveland. You see Ed had this nutty idea that the transformers that came on cheap ceiling speakers were crap and that he was better off ordering all of the speakers without transformers and attaching transformers with larger windings onto the 4000+ speakers in his shop because it would sound better. Of course when I say “he was better off” it’s a true statement because I was the one that ended up with repetitive stress syndrome. He ended up with better sounding ceiling speakers to impress the consultant with. Funny thing was, and at the time I was a newb in the contracting world, the speakers weren’t specified with these better transformers. It wasn’t in his scope to provide them this way. Wha wha wha what?
Flash forward 10 years and I am now working in Vegas for a national contractor on the new Bellagio Casino. Big time project, big time consultant, big time contractor, big time budget. The time frame is impressive for a billion $ plus project, groundbreaking to opening in less than 2 years. Thousands of laborers, elbow to elbow, walls going up, and coming down, change order paperwork flying across desks and into onsite trailers without a second thought and the words “Not In My Scope” echoing through the still unfinished concrete hallways. Well, I had heard this term before, but never the number of times I had heard it used there. There was blood in the water and the contractors all had a feeding frenzy. I don’t know of any contractors that didn’t come out of that project fat and happy. Six months later across the strip at the new Paris Casino, same contractors, same story, same words “Not In My Scope”. And why not? The boom in Las Vegas was in full swing and money was not an object. Just get the place open and make it better than the guy who just opened next door.
I learned something in those years. Contractors love the Change Order. Many, and not just in the low voltage
industry, make their living on those change orders. Sure most of the bids are cutthroat and the winning bidder will just break even if they practice good project management. If they are lucky they will come out of the project with a small profit. But the Change Orders! That’s the ticket to a good bottom line. But of course this great bottom line for the contractor is all at the owner’s expense. This is a capitalist economy at it’s worst. “It’s not in my scope so I’ll get them to sign a change order.”
Ok, I know, all of the contractors reading this hate me now. And you should as I am a traitor. I left the contracting field and became the enemy – a consultant. What would posses me to cross the line? Wait for it… because I hate consultants! Yep, that’s a big reason Kevin and I started this firm. We hold a common belief that most contractors are not at fault for the finger pointing, change orders and the “not in my scope”. We started this firm with the belief that we can provide more complete designs and specifications to our clients and, ultimately, the contractor. Well, how will this benefit the contractor if we attempt to put out better designs and specs filling the scope gaps and hence taking away the contractors bread and butter, the change order? We start by presenting the owner with realistic budgets with proper margins built in for the contractors. There has always been this plague in the AV contracting industry that has been getting worse with consumer electronics becoming commodities. Owners usually do not have a realistic expectation of what they should pay for a professionally integrated system. They often do not understand why they should pay $1000 for a certain size LCD TV when they can buy the same size at a big box store for $800. It is the consultants job to educate our clients on issues such as this. It is our job to design and specify systems without scope gaps and educate our clients so that the contractor’s job is easy and the bidding process doesn’t become cutthroat. The contractor should be confident in submitting a bid that will yield them a decent profit and they should not have to rely on those change orders to do it. This will ultimately keep the project flowing smoothly and save the customer loads of cash. It will also yield a lasting consultant-client relationship. Everybody wins.
Back to my first summers working for Ed Simon. Looking back, I have an important point of reference. That nutty idea he had of putting better transformers on the speakers is unheard of in today’s contracting industry. Construction timelines were more forgiving then. Consultants were able to put out more complete packages without all the scope gaps. Ed was able to make a profit on a large stadium job and throw in a little extra that wasn’t in his scope. I truly believe projects can still happen like this and the burden is on firms like ours, as consultants. The timeframes are compressed, but with a good consultant-client relationship and an even better contractor-consultant relationship, everybody wins, with far less stress and no more “Not In My Scope!”