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Learn the Lingo to Ensure Success

belied the solid foundation provided by the various members of the project team. Now that we are all sitting on top of the iceberg, we have to learn to play together or communicate with one another.

IN LAST MONTH'S COLUMN, I TALKED ABOUT HOW THE tip of the project “iceberg” belied the solid foundation provided by the various members of the project team. Now that we are all sitting on top of the iceberg, we have to learn to play together or communicate with one another. Like a musical band, there are multiple voices and instruments, hopefully, following the same piece of music that we all know how to read.

In construction projects, there are formal paths and means of communication that need to be followed to resolve issues or conflicts that will inevitably arise. The use of these tools begins the moment the contractor picks up the set of plans to prepare his bid. How well a contractor uses these tools can determine whether or not he is the successful bidder.


It all starts during the bid period, where the contractor should carefully examine the bid documents — drawings and specifications — to make sure he understands the design team's intent. It's not just what the AV consultant produces; it is what the whole design team has produced.

Remember, the bid document is the consultant's effort to communicate that intent to the contractor. It's important to “ask early and ask often.” It can save a contractor, the design team, and, especially, the owner a lot of trouble later in the project.

Consultants are not without egos, but none of us has yet claimed to be perfect. We are responsible to ensure that we follow a standard of care regarding the systems we design. I know my estimation of a contractor rises considerably when he or she has taken the time to read the bid documents and then calls me or sends an e-mail with questions. Those phone calls and e-mails tell me that someone out there is listening.

The formal avenue for answering those questions is the bid addendum. The design team and the owner expect to issue at least one, and possibly more, of these documents during the bid period. They are a symbol of our humanity and an admission of our lack of perfection.

Addenda are sent out to everyone on the bid list, which may be one reason AV contractors don't ask questions. Perhaps they are afraid of letting everyone else know what they have learned, and thus losing a competitive advantage. It may lose you some profit, but I have rarely found that asking questions will cause you to lose the job. If you have a question, remember that others likely have that same question, too.

These questions can, and should, include Requests for Substitution. This is a communications tool that the contractor can use to propose alternative equipment. The contractor might have a better solution or may not have access to the specified product. Unless the consultant has called out acceptable alternates, this is the preferred means for the contractor. The consultant may not approve that request, based on a host of issues. On one project, I had an integrator ask to substitute one brand of video projector for another. Based on the owner's preferences, and not my own caprice, I denied the integrator's Request for Substitution.


Once the contractor has won the bid, other formal communication tools come into play. The first is the preparation of the equipment submittals and the contractor's shop drawings. These documents show that the contractor understands the project and how it is supposed to go together. They are not intended to be a regurgitation of the bid documents, without any changes.

The shop drawings typically include detailed system block diagrams, rack elevations, panel details, mounting details, and raceway and wiring details. Equipment submittals are also provided at this time, providing a complete overview of the contractor's grasp of the project. At this point, the consultant may make corrections to the package. These changes, a result of the consultant's review of the shop drawings, don't become part of the package until the consultant and the architect have issued them as part of one of two other types of instruments — a Change Order (CO) or Architect's Supplemental Instructions (ASI).

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