Trust: Building it is Hard and Keeping it is Harder

Checklist Item Under Test: Report Signature: “I hereby certify that, in accordance with specification in product, practice and performance, this system [*fill in system status here*]. I further certify that the measurements contained herein were taken in accordance with standard practices and within specified tolerances.

[*Electronic Signature*]”


Reasoning: With any business transaction, there has to be an element of trust between the two parties in order to begin the relationship. Further, a person has to take responsibility for the relationship on both sides of a contract. Without that single point of responsibility, there can be no accountability. It is for this reason that all reports submitted after a commissioning should be electronically signed by a single person, and not just sent from an organization. Knowing that the signatory is attesting to the accuracy of the document gives it credibility compared to an unsigned report from a nebulous piece of a larger organization. It also helps to maintain the trust on the client’s side, which is paramount for a long-term business relationship.

The Story: “I don’t trust you. I don’t trust you. And I definitely don’t trust you.” This was going to be one of those meetings.

AVR was commissioning a system and the process was not going well. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it was a high-priority project with a very large client. Milestones had been missed, the budget was blown and the finish line was still way in the distance. Due to the immense pressure on all sides, people were scrambling to either place the blame on someone else, soften the truth to lessen the blow to the client or simply hide their heads in the sand. This wasn’t just happening between the different companies involved, but also among the different team members in the same company.

Someone told the project team that the system was 100%. Another person would say that, although it’s not 100%, it’s close enough to commission and train the users. AVR had to say that the system was not in working order, and essentially threw a wrench into the works. The client, understandably, didn’t know who to believe and, as a result, lost faith in the entire team.

The project progressed. Someone said that the systems were 100% ready a week later. AVR had to say, again, that they were not, and listed several reasons why. One reason was the audio. Not only did it feed back during speech reinforcement and echo during conferences, but the functionality wasn’t clear between the integrator, the designer, the owner and, consequently, the commissioning team. Frustrated by this bad news, the client came down to the jobsite to see/hear for himself. And here is where the trust and accountability became important.

As we tested the audio system, the microphones had a slight ring in the room, as documented on the AVR report that was signed by me. We also heard echo during video and audio calls, as documented on the AVR report that was signed by me. When the client asked the integrator why they said that the system was 100%, the project manager said that their “audio team” said that it was complete, but they weren’t onsite today. Also, because they were working two shifts, that news might have come from the night shift audio guy (also not present or named). In other words, there was no accountability, and it was someone else’s fault.

When the designer was asked why the functionality didn’t match the users’ needs, he said that their engineering team must not have captured the intent. Again, the blame was placed on an ambiguous part of their company, and no one person was accountable.

Any report that AVR sends out has, essentially, an affidavit of sorts. It’s part of quality management. If you have any question as to who reported what, there is someone listed on the report who is accountable for its accuracy. The buck stops there. I’m not certain, but I believe this plays a large role in why AVR is trusted by our clients. Our quality management system has devices in place to clearly assign responsibility and accountability for each of our projects.

This is also the difference between a good company and a quality-minded company. A good company will get things done, but if something goes wrong, there are no checks in place to find out what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again; it just gets chalked up to a “project that went all pear-shaped.” A quality-minded company will have someone responsible for checking a project several times at key milestones to make sure it is successful. If something goes wrong, it is caught as early as possible in the process. Further, if the process has to be changed to prevent this from happening again, the quality management system has a vehicle for that to apply it to the entire company.

In an ideal world, the integrator would have completed a commissioning checklist before bringing AVR in. So, when the client asked why they said the system was 100% complete, the project manager could have said, “Well, Billy D Technician signed off on the audio testing last Thursday. Let’s ask him.” The other nice thing about this method is that, when a single, real-life person is responsible for testing a system, that individual makes sure to do it well. He has to sign off on it. It’s his responsibility. Thus, if Billy D wants to keep his job and his integrity, he’ll probably make sure the audio system is thoroughly vetted instead of just telling the project manager in passing that he thinks the audio system works…kinda…while he’s trying to troubleshoot a different system. Accountability is key.

This is also why 3rd Party Commissioning is so successful and powerful. An entirely separate organization is brought in to make sure the system does what it’s supposed to do and the client is getting what they paid for. That’s it. That’s their entire mission. So, if they want to do it well, stay in business and keep their clients satisfied, they have to maintain that trust among their clients and the teams they are testing. I don’t see any other way to make sure an entire organization succeeds at keeping the trust of their clients without a quality management system.

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