Responding to a Tender Call
or Request for Quotation
We see some recurring problems with bids for sound or A/V system installations. These problems can either create havoc at the award of a contract, as having the contractor suddenly discover they left out something significant, like all the labour on a project, or other problems that make themselves known as the contract proceeds, such as the familiar lament of "That's not in the spec!" followed by us pointing out exactly where it is in the spec.
We have a few suggestions that we'd like to offer to reduce the occurrence of the most common problems we see.
Review the Spec
Have the spec document and the associated terms and conditions reviewed by three parties in your firm: the person responsible for managing the money (financial officer, comptroller, etc.); the person responsible for the technical side of the installation (project manager, head tech, etc.); and the sales people responsible for pricing the equipment that goes into a project. Depending on the size of the contracting firm, there may be some overlap in these roles, and if that's the case then the spec should be reviewed for those three components separately.
Literally every single paragraph of a spec document should be reviewed for the impact on the true cost to the project, technical requirements that must be met, and potential implications for product selection and delivery, penalties or costs associated with approvals etc. It would even help to have three checkmarks appear beside each paragraph so that someone has to check and initial each paragraph for the financial, technical and sales implications. Even in the "boilerplate" of a spec document there are terms and conditions that will impact the cost to the contractor, never assume that the boilerplate does not change to suit the project.
For instance, there may be a requirement to provide a lift for installation. If you planned to use another trade's lift to save some money and then the project schedule shifts and that lift is gone when you arrive on site, the responsibility to provide the lift is still something you are contractually obligated to do.
The testing and proof of performance requirements may mean having to rent test equipment, or hire an outside firm to do the testing if you don't have the capacity in-house.
Speak now or forever hold your peace
We can't emphasize this enough, if you have an issue with any clause of a spec document, or if anything is unclear, the time to bring it to the attention of the consultant or the agency issuing the tender is before the tender closes. If you submit your bid without identifying an exception to a specific clause, or identifying an error or omission, then your contract will include the terms of the offensive clause. Don't assume that you will be able to be relieved of any responsibility defined in the contract, assume that you will be held to all the terms and conditions (even the ones you may find onerous).
Things do happen to spec documents, sometimes paragraphs go missing during electronic editing, your copy of a spec may have missing pages due to copying or printing errors. If you see the discrepancy between the description of the work and identified equipment, or you see an anomaly in the page numbering, or anything else that looks wrong, then call attention to it before you submit your bid.
A spec document always assumes that you are familiar with the standards and practices of your trade (even where those standards and practices are not mandated by law or regulation). If there are accepted industry practices for connector wiring as an example, then the spec document includes the expectation for the highest industry standards of connector wiring without specifying the implementation of those standards. The spec document won't specify the detail of how to solder or terminate a connector. The spec document won't specify operational methodology (i.e. don't connect amplifiers to shorted speaker cable, test the speaker and cable impedance before connecting amplifiers to it). If you don't have a clear idea of what the industry standards are, then some research is in order. Pickup a copy of Sound System Engineering by Don and Carolyn Davis and read through the chapters on: Installing the Sound System, Equalizing the Sound System, Audio and Acoustic Instrumentation, as well as Appendix II Recommended Wiring Practices. You might also want a copy of Audio Systems Technology #2 published by the National Systems Contracting Association as a companion to their NICET certification program for technicians.
There's a reason it's in the spec
We wouldn't put it there if it weren't important. No matter what value you see in a clause in a spec, there's a reason that it's in there. If that reason escapes you, then ask the question. If you don't understand your responsibility as described in the spec, then ask the question.
Shop Drawings: even though many contractors seem to find shop drawings an onerous and time consuming exercise, the shop drawing should be the instruction set that the contractor has prepared for their installation and construction crew. Stylistic improvisation may be impressive in jazz music, but a construction project is much more like a symphony orchestra, and the conductor or project manager needs to know what every contractor is actually doing and how they will do it. The shop drawings are also the least expensive way to sort out mistakes and approvals. It is always cheaper and less work to have a drawing rejected than to have some piece of custom fabrication rejected as unacceptable.
Schedule: Even if you're an Air sign and like to drift through life responding to the whims of the universe, the rest of the project might need to know when you expect to be on site and what you need in place to be there. Providing a project schedule with critical milestones is the way to make sure your chestnuts are not the ones roasting on an open fire when the project schedule slips because of the asbestos they find hidden in some wall during demolition. It also gives you a way to tell if you're on your predicted schedule for time and materials, as well as allowing you to schedule your labour pool.
Buildouts, terminations, impedance and level matching devices, interstage attenuators and transformers: Gain structure really is much more than hooking the gear up and setting all the knobs to "0". It is important to understand what each component in the signal chain requires to perform at its optimum signal-to-noise and distortion ratings. You need to be able to measure output and input impedance of the electronic devices in the signal chain to determine what impedance load they present to the device in front of them, and what impedance load adjustment is required in the device after it. This may mean that additional components (transformers, attenuators etc.) are required between various devices in the signal chain to maintain correct load impedance and correct signal levels. Every device in the signal chain should be optimized to perform at its best. We don't show these additional components on the drawing because their characteristics, and even their need to be in the circuit, are entirely dependent upon the final collection of equipment included in your bid. This is why it is important that the contractor have both their technical and sales people review a tender before preparing a bid. Your techie needs to identify the implications of your product selections for the bid.
Testing: This seems to be such a common complaint: "It's so much work; We didn't allow enough money for all this testing; We don't own this test equipment it's not fair; We never have to do this on other projects; We do all this by ear, we don't need all this test equipment." The reason you have to test the system is to find out when you're finished. Let me repeat that; The reason you have to test the system is to find out when you're finished. It is one thing to take a bunch of equipment out of a box, bolt it in a rack, hook it all up and listen to it. That's what the guys at Destiny Shop or the local music store do. If you're a systems integrator you need to have a more integrated view of what a system is. This means you have to be able to set gain structure (this is more than setting everything at "0"), and test for noise and distortion. If we had a nickel for every time we attended a substantial completion inspection and the system sounded awful, or distorted, or was noisy, or didn't pass audio at all, we could retire. Until you have tested the system and have verified that the signal path quality is at least as good as the lowest performance piece of gear in the signal path, you haven't finished the installation.
As-Built Drawings and Manuals: Allow enough time in your bid to do a good job of the documentation. It takes longer than you think to make good on this clause. If you do your shop drawings well, you are half way there, you only need to document the variations between what you planned to do and what you were able to do. The Owners Manuals require more thought. There is a requirement for simplified operating instructions in the manual. This should be the script you use for your training program for the owner. It should stand on it's own as a piece of documentation so that someone reading it 6 months from now would be able to find their way around the system and make it work. This isn't just a point list for the people who were at the training session. Assume the reader has never seen the system before. This means you must understand how the system works and what it is capable of before you write the document. It helps to make use of graphic elements like control panel layouts, or switch panel graphics so people have a sense of what you are referring to.
Double check your bid
It seems so obvious, double check your bid to make sure you have included all the equipment, all the labour and materials, all the costs related to permits, documentation, testing, outside approvals and certification etc. The number of times we see someone win a bid because they left something expensive out of their bid, an expensive way to buy a job. Don't assume that your spreadsheet is including that block of stuff you inserted in the middle, check it twice, use a calculator, have someone else look at it.
Don't wait till the last minute
Don't wait till the last minute to respond. You want to have time to request alternates, ask manufacturers for delivery or pricing information, get clarification on items in the spec. If you start 2 days before the closing date don't be surprised if you can't get the responses you need to accurately complete a bid.
Now the technical stuff...
Now that the administrative stuff is deal with, you can check out the technical stuff. Take our contractor quiz.