The Commish: Checklist vs. Report: You really expect me to read all that?

We should always keep who the intended audience of our reports is at the top of our minds. It’s something that’s often forgotten—especially in the engineering-centric world of AV.

AV9000 Checklist Item Under Test: The entire commissioning checklist versus the commissioning testing report.

Reasoning: As commissioning agents, our deliverables are not systems or devices; rather, our deliverables are completed checklists and reports. Since our deliverables are information-based, we have to present them in a manner that is easy to digest and, ultimately, easy to act upon. I maintain two documents when commissioning systems: the checklist and the report. The checklist provides evidence of what was tested successfully and not. It guides the entire process. However, once it has been completed, it is very rarely referenced.

The report, meanwhile, is essentially an executive summary of the findings from the checklist. It is the focus of meetings, and it guides the actions of the team after the commissioning testing is completed. It provides a summary of all the findings, and it’s easy to distribute to the project team. Although the checklist is proof of the audit, it, by contrast, can be cumbersome to glean information from. The report is made up of only the pertinent information for the team, and it can be easily manipulated to complete the project.

The Story: Did you ever see the remake of “The Little Rascals” that was released in 1994? I love that movie. One of my favorite scenes is when Stymie leads the Little Rascals as they take their oath for the He-Man Woman-Haters Club:

Stymie: Repeat after me. “I…”
Little Rascals: “I…”
Stymie: “State your name…”
Little Rascals: “State your name…”
Stymie: *smacks his head* “Member in good standing of the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club…”
Little Rascals: “Member in good standing of the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club…”
Stymie: “Do solemnly swear to be a he-man and hate women and not play with them or talk to them unless I have to. And especially: never fall in love, and if I do, may I die slowly and painfully and suffer for hours—or until I scream bloody murder.”
Little Rascals: *take a deep breath* “Do solemnly swear…to, uh…mumble mumble…garble garble…five niner…mumble…SCREAM BLOODY MURDER!”

Clearly, Stymie didn’t make the solemn oath very digestible for the Little Rascals. Although he started out fine, the last, big bit was too much information for them to handle. Naturally, this got me thinking about commissioning AV systems.

Our company has been doing some very large, global-scale, enterprise-client-level rollouts. As such, we want our staging and commissioning testing to be as efficient as possible. Basically, we assemble one large workbook for the entire project, and that workbook includes the staging and commissioning checklists and reports for all systems in a building. These can be very large documents, encompassing multiple worksheets with hundreds of rows and columns. Using the checklist worksheets is very easy and efficient. Finding information in the checklist worksheets can be difficult.

That is why the report worksheet is so important. Any findings from the checklists are summarized on the report. The report can then be filtered by date, room, issue category (control, video, audio, facility, etc.), process owner and whether it has been addressed. After the testing is complete, the report becomes a powerful and useful document, and it’s constantly updated to make sure all systems are ready for business as quickly as possible.

As unsexy as doing so is, we keep the checklists and reports in spreadsheet format. I’ve seen companies use apps for their checklists so they can blast through them on their smartphones or tablets—admittedly, that’s pretty cool. However, a laptop is still required for many tests on the checklist, so running them from another device doesn’t provide very much more efficiency. I’ve also not seen an app that does a good job of creating a report from the checklists—especially when one checklist test might lead to dozens of report items. (For example, Item 6.4.1: “The control systems perform all the functions.” This item alone can lead to pages of issues.)

In addition, being able to sort the report by date, sub-system or owner on the fly can be incredibly useful in the field. Manually managing two document types—checklists and reports—might not be as seamless as having the checklist entered into an app, but we have to remember our audience. Will our audience want to leaf through an 18-page PDF to find issues with their system that have to be remedied, or will they want a sortable, executive-summary-style, living report that can track the progress of the system status? What might be easy for you might inadvertently create headaches for your clients.

We should always keep who the intended audience of our reports is at the top of our minds. It’s something that’s often forgotten—especially in the engineering-centric world of AV. It’s easy to become caught up in tech-speak gobbledygook when we write, just as it’s easy to streamline project tasks for ourselves as much as possible. But, if those things lead to our clients not being able to understand what we’re delivering to them, it’s a problem.

Clients most likely won’t care or understand that their sound system failed testing because the total harmonic distortion (THD) on channel 1 of the amplifier was 1.2 percent (Commissioning Checklist Item 6.2.6). That actually might sound pretty good to them. (“Only 1.2 percent? That’s great!”) They will care if we describe that issue as the audio coming out of the left loudspeaker being distorted or crackling when a typical signal is pushed through the system. The issue, as interpreted in plain language, should be captured in the report. Don’t make the mistake that Stymie did with the He-Man Woman-Haters Club oath. Keep the reporting of issues easy to understand, sort and work with. If you don’t, your clients will be the ones who “scream bloody murder!”

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