04.02.16

Project Design: The Role of the Project Manager

Over the last 10 years I have been lucky enough to be involved in the design and project management of some of the most prestigious residential AV projects throughout the UK. With increasing demand in this sector, September 2015 saw the launch designflow—a partnership forged between Keith Jones and I to provide specialist system design and documentation for custom installers.

With a combination of our experience and complimenting attributes, which we have both gained through hands on experience within the industry, we recognise that there are many factors that our clients (dealers) look for when identifying an AV solution. Thankfully for us, our clients do understand the importance behind good system design and documentation and how this can help them be successful. However when such processes are overlooked, problems can begin to manifest and often snowball out of control.

One of the AV companies’ biggest challenges is winning the job. With competition being fierce and the consumer industry so strong it is essential that costs are streamlined wherever possible in order to remain competitive. As such, it may sometimes be decided to cut a design-fee or even reduce project-management however: have we got to the point where we are eliminating at the expense of the finished project?

Looking at project management and design aspects as sacrificial lambs, can be a false economy. Instead we need to adopt these areas and accept them as part of our culture.

As an industry, it’s imperative that we coordinate and collaborate every part of our project and understand the importance behind proper project management as we begin to recognise its benefits and realise what it contributes.

The complexity in which project management is dealt with differs; each company should strive to develop its own working model which positively distinguishes them from the next. By doing so this can even elevate one vendor above another but regardless of the incentives each company might offer, it is crucial that we all understand project management for what it should be, not just what the text book tells us.

System design needs to remain at the heart of the project at all times. This determines the schedule and calls upon multiple disciplines, all of who will touch the project at different times — from installers, programmers even through to interior designers — all teams need a clear vision of the technical, practical and aesthetic elements and their subsequent timelines which are all required to fall within the scope of each project. It is important that we remember the system design not only supports all of the above but provides a concrete base on which the project will start to flourish.

Project Design Blueprint Screen
System design needs to remain at the heart of the project at all times.

The project management role involves not only defining and maintaining the schedule but, in practice, also requires someone with an ability to relate to your clients, support your teams and reassure your contractors whilst continuing to amend a live schedule.

Having gained a good deal of experience through many projects, I realise that whilst this experience provides wisdom, the simple ability to be able to listen, question, understand and react really are crucial attributes for any Project Manager to retain and acknowledge.

To me, it is a given that a project manager in our sector should have the technical industry knowledge as to the equipment and its capability and functionality. But regardless of this does your client just want to know if you can deliver on time? Sometimes, yes – but if a project manager can build a collaborative relationship where an open and solutions-focused dialogue exists, it means that any issues which may affect delivery can be raised and worked through together so as to be accounted for within the management of the project, its timeframe and distribution of tasks.

This requires a good level of client service skills but such a Project Manager will work to encourage regular client contact and look to build a valuable and strong relationship. Expectations can be managed and decisions made which suit both time and budget accordingly. It’s essential to be able to call in for a status update and then be able to talk openly and honestly from both sides of the coin.

A project manager should be comfortable in leading difficult conversations through honesty and a pragmatic approach – not only with the client but also with the entire team. This encourages a culture where any issues can be talked through without prejudice and helps retain morale which can be channelled to focus on the mutual goals in hand.

As a service, you will not only be judged on the overall success of the project, but equally on how you get there. The experience that the client and sub-contractors take away will likely determine future relations. Positive experiences lead to repeat business and also gain your company a good reputation.

Kelly Ashforth is partner in designflow, a London-based AV project management and systems design firm. Awarded in interior design, AutoCAD and 3DsMAX throughout her college and university career, Ashforth gained her CCPD (CEDIA Certified Professional Designer) in 2008 when she joined a successful AV installation firm—becoming a systems designer and one of only two women in Europe with this accreditation at the time. Since then she has freelanced for numerous AV installation companies designing and project managing.