BY WAYNE D. MOORE
LEARNING FROM PROJECT CHALLENGES
How often does something
go wrong on a project? I bet your answer is,
“Too often.” Of course, when this happens, it
Most of these unpleasant surprises result
from decisions made during the bidding process.
One might decide to use fire alarm systems
equipment from a new supplier that offers a
reduced price. Or a less expensive fire alarm
systems subcontractor. Or a new subcontractor that offers to complete the installation and
program the fire alarm system at a price below
what is normally paid. The common denominator
is price savings. The challenge arises when the
decisions eventually cause serious grief, some
of which couldn’t have been foreseen.
It seems we often forget the old adage that
you get what you pay for. These project challenges—I call them teachable moments—will
increase in the coming years for a number of
reasons. The first reason is that, as the boomers
retire, their replacements do not have the same
level of experience. Second, as most readers
know, it is hard to hire qualified people.
So, the equipment suppliers and fire alarm
subcontractors try to do more work with fewer
people. Add to the mix of changing personnel
the fact that the new people rarely get all the
necessary and expected training they need to
do well on projects.
What can be done with these teachable mo-
ments? Perhaps take a deep breath, slow down
a little, and figure out what has been learned
from this situation.
With fire alarm system issues, learning can
be broken down into a few categories. Do the
negative issues that arise come from a lack
of knowledge regarding the codes and standards, including NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm
and Signaling Code? For example, did the fire
alarm systems subcontractor miss the fact that
survivable riser circuits for the speakers were
needed on each floor? Did the fire alarm equipment supplier fail to calculate the notification
appliance loads correctly? Did the supplier compound this mistake by providing batteries that
don’t meet the standby power requirements?
Does the subcontractor use technicians with
little installation experience and fail to install
the return on a Class A circuit, for example? In
the same vein, what installation knowledge or
background do the fire alarm equipment supplier
Or, has the responsible individual failed to
properly coordinate with the authority having
The teachable moment becomes quite obvious. It is important to stop shopping price and
shop quality instead. These errors result in lost
time, lost profit dollars and lost reputation, because mistakes kept the building from opening
Can these project challenges be avoided? In
If your project schedule must finish so the
my opinion, the first way to learn from an issue
is to examine what happened from all angles
to find out why it happened, not to find fault.
Get to the root cause of the problem so some-
thing can truly be learned from it. As Dwight
Eisenhower said, “Plans are useless; planning
How can planning be incorporated into fire
alarm system purchasing? Develop a checklist
of questions that each fire alarm equipment
supplier and fire alarm systems subcontractor
must answer before you will consider each bid.
Questions could include the following: How ma-
ny manufacturer qualified programmers do you
have on staff? How many projects of this size
and complexity do you have now and will you
have to program those systems at essentially
the same time?
owner can open in the fall, ask if the equipment
supplier or subcontractor have other jobs, such
as school projects, with the same deadline.
Ask which technicians will be assigned to
your project and how long those individuals
have worked for the company. Find out what
kind of relationship they have with the AHJ.
(Make sure you ask the AHJ about them, as
well). Get a guarantee that the qualified technicians assigned to your job will stay assigned to
the project from beginning to end.
This last item is very important. For large,
complex projects, you want the assigned techni-
cians to stay with you. You waste time bringing
new guys up to speed.
Purchasing a fire alarm system does not
compare to buying a receptacle or light fixture
at virtually any wholesaler. Issues with the supplier or subcontractor can almost guarantee that
the project will not open on time.
Deciding on a fire alarm equipment supplier or fire alarm systems contractor, and
developing a relationship with them and their
technicians will result in fewer call backs and
fewer project issues. If everything is properly
planned ahead of time, the quality and performance of others can be ensured, and project
needs will be completely thought through. This
will also, hopefully, result in fewer “teachable
moments.” That should be your goal.
MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in
the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24.
Moore is a vice president with Jensen Hughes at the Warwick, R.I., office. He can
be reached at