How Do You Do…Your Engineering?

Introducing several approaches and their differences. Part 1

This is a long time coming…. I have tried for many years to maintain a balance in my writing, so that I reach all of those in our industry (and in others). However, over the years, I’ve collected so much information that I want to share about engineering, and I just can’t wait any longer.

I (with the help of you, the readers) am going to create a series about AV engineering, which will call attention to all the means, methods, issues and challenges that face those who are responsible for making systems work today. In this month’s column, my introduction to that series, I will discuss what we will be addressing. With any luck, I will get some reader feedback so that I can add your thoughts, your means and your methods.

I am going to focus on five types of approaches and, over the course of the series, I’ll delve deep into each one. Using a “by example” approach, I’ll explain some pros and cons with regard to process, procedure, etc. Then, I’ll discuss what others are doing to overcome some of the typical hurdles that we, as engineers, face to “do a better job” for our customers…and for ourselves! The end game here is something I have written about often—I seek to advance our industry’s profile and status.

By the way, when you’re done reading this, if you feel left out—if you think I missed what you do—then, by all means, let me know! I will add your “type” of engineering process to the discussion. I don’t have any limit on how many types (and parts) there will be in this ongoing series.

Approach #1: The one-man (or woman) shop.

In this approach, the entire AV project process—the marketing, sales, design, engineering, documentation, delivery, installation and service—is run by one individual.

Approach #2: Sales and engineering are separated.

I believe this is typical of our industry. Sales leads come in; the engineer produces the proposal and bill of materials; and, after the sale is made, the same engineer produces the construction documents. The engineer is also the field engineer, who goes onsite, loads control code, sets up the DSP and makes all adjustments. (Some actually even write the control code.) Although they don’t typically do service, in smaller companies, they might.

Approach #3: Sales and engineering are separated, and there’s a separate field engineer.

This is typical of larger companies. Because, as in Approach #2, sales and engineering are still separated, I won’t repeat everything; instead, I’ll focus on the differences. Here, the document-producing engineer does not go into the field; instead, he or she continues to focus on delivering documents to sales and, after the sale, to operations. This type of company utilizes a separate field engineer, who works onsite to complete/commission the project.

Approach #4: The sales engineer.

In this approach, the sales engineer closes deals, writes proposals and designs projects—responsibilities include generating a bill of material and pre-sales sketches. However, after the project is sold, he or she does not complete the final engineering or create the construction documents. Instead, he or she moves on to another sale, turning over the sold project to the main engineer for completion.

(Just a quick note: I like the sales engineer approach, due to its uniqueness. Many people in sales just aren’t technical. They sell AV, but, when a client presses them for advanced technical details, they bring in their engineer. The same holds true the other way around. The main engineer, although deeply knowledgeable about each and every detail of a system, could never “sell” his or her system design to a client. Having the gift of gab, and being able to translate complex technical details into layman’s terms, is unique.)

Approach #5: Pre-sale engineer reports to sales; post-sale engineer reports to engineering.

This approach has an account manager for sales and a separate engineer for sales. The latter is dedicated to providing proposals, bills of material and designs. But—and a big but—the pre-sales engineer reports to sales. Then, when the project is sold, it’s turned over to another engineer, who does the final engineering and produces the construction documents.That engineer reports to engineering (or, in some cases, operations). Typically, he or she doesn’t go into the field—there is a field engineer for that.

Of course, there can be some variation in these engineering approaches, but I think you get the idea. We’ll look at what these approaches mean for the client and the engineering process when it comes to accuracy in the design, function, profitability and overall satisfaction. (Would they hire you again?) Hint: There might be issues centered on the transfer of information. (I’m talking about documentation, or the lack thereof, and things possibly being missed)

Now, for the fun part—I’m looking for engineers, sales engineers, field engineers, directors of engineering, operations managers, sales managers…anyone who would like to throw in their two cents to this discussion. Go on the record for yourself and/or your company and answer a few questions based on the engineering approach that you follow. Your comments will be published and shared for all.

What do you think? Is your approach like the “Secret Sauce” at McDonald’s—not to be discussed and shared? Or, will you step up and share with our small community, as it strives for acceptance by the masses? Please contact me at

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