How Checklists can Make Installing Cinemas a Breeze!

Designing, managing & building a Cinema

Cinema and media room projects are great fun. During the sales process it is one area that the Client feels they have a real input and are genuinely excited about the finished room.  As a dealer it is exciting too. Some of the best equipment, the chances to design a system that not only focuses on the technology but also on the way the room looks. But in reality, do they always go to plan, do we always do everything that we promised and also the things that we know we should that we don’t. Calibrating the sound and picture. A smooth handover of a fully tested cinema and a whole long list of other things we know would give the Client a huge buzz rather than an underwhelming handover meeting.

Our business is complex. Technology fails, we get let down by suppliers, manufacturers, sub-contractors and other trades. It is inherently risky business to be in. To make it work managing risk is key. But how can we do that, and what are the first steps we should take?

The problem with building a cinema & procuring equipment

Finished cinemas that are properly designed, thought out and planned look incredible.

Imagine the perfect scenario.  

The room has been specified by the Client with the help of the Dealer. The choice of specification includes the aesthetic of the room as well as the technical performance of the room.  Everything has been considered. The Dealer has asked all the right questions to make sure they are managing the expectations of the Client. As the project progresses from design to procurement everything is ordered on time, before it is needed, right down to the finishing details. It is all the one percent details that add up to make a truly incredible room.

First fix of the room takes place, coordination with the rest of the project team is clear and everyone is aware of their responsibilities. Walls are built, back boxes installed with cabling to the correct location. Nothing is left to chance. Room finishes are applied, equipment is installed, soft furnishings brought in and the room fully commissioned.

The Client is delighted, it meets the criteria the Dealer and Client agreed on at the beginning. It sounds and looks incredible.

There is plenty of news that celebrates the success of projects like this, from awards to articles in publications.

What isn’t published that often is stories about it not going right. If there is, its there to shame another party, rightly or wrongly.  Perhaps we should look at why there are so many projects (that we don’t talk about), why they go wrong and what we can do to make sure it doesn’t happen as frequently as it does.

Make no mistake, building a cinema and handing it over properly is complex. It isn’t hard, but there are a lot of parts and people involved and that makes it complex. The problem is that there is a lot to do and consider.

Creating a Checklist – Surely that’s too simple?

The ideal project above didn’t happen by coincidence. Even if all your staff and sub-contractors are incredible It is highly unlikely that just leaving everyone to their own devices will produce a room like this.

There is a really simple method that will go a long way toward making sure that rooms are delivered in this way. The tool is called a checklist.  Checklists are used the world over to stop planes falling out of the sky, coordinate emergency response teams to carry out complex manoeuvres in hostile environments and medical professionals to save lives and avoid making mistakes.

For something that is so alarmingly simple it is so highly effective. There is a limited amount of choices we can make in a day before we get mental fatigue and are unable to process any more questions. Depending on the number of projects that the company has on at any one time, a checklist process can make sense ensuring that results are continually the same and the customer is receiving the level of service set by the business.

The End of Making it Complex to Build a Cinema

The first paragraph explained exactly what any Client who has committed to the purchase of a home cinema would expect.  The question is how to consistently deliver on that every time. The first point to look at is what was agreed. The chances are that what you want to deliver is very different from what you are currently delivering. How do you see the handover meeting going? Is there a process in place to make the handover amazing? Or is it quite standard, and more of a chat with a list of snags that need finishing off.

Reverse engineer from the last possible point of the project. This could be walking away after handing over to the Client, or one step further – how the maintenance of the room will be carried out. Map the process out all the way back to the initial Client meeting.

Figure out the key stages within your business. Mark out areas that you see as a risk or a decision that needs to be made. At each of these points create a checklist. The key is to keep the checklist as simple as possible. As little as 2-3 words for each point. An example of this could be for procurement:

  • Draft PO
  • Check Delivery Address
  • Call Supplier (s)
  • Obtain Quote
  • Check Lead time
  • Add to schedule

It is really simple. But the project as a whole is complex. Most big things like flying a plane are complex, but they can always be broken down to the smallest and simplest task.  Creating and following checklists allows members of the team to be focusing on what they are best at doing and allows junior members of the team the ability to try new tasks because the checklist is the safety mechanism. If they can’t do it or follow a step they ask. It frees the more senior members of the team to concentrate on winning business and improving current methods of work and business process.

Accountability – not Abdication of Responsibility!

Creating checklists will help produce a higher level of results. It also helps drive accountability. Accountability shouldn’t be seen in a negative light.  Too often accountability is mentioned when something has gone wrong. Instead use it to help your team or subcontractors to take responsibility for their actions. Especially if there is a checklist to follow.

It is worth noting that abdication of all responsibility on to team members with no feedback or communication is not creating a culture of accountability. It is abdication of responsibility. For a period of time this might work, but it won’t last forever.  As checklists are written it is important that team members that might have previously carried out the duties when they were complex tasks should manage their staff who are now doing the work. This could be by one 2 one meetings, checking in to make sure they are happy and confident and keeping a feedback loop open. This will help to improve current checklists and improve the way the business functions.

Rolling out the Process (and the kick back!)

For checklists to work getting buy in from your team is really important. Focus on discussing the benefits of following the checklists. Remind them of the uncomfortable situations that past projects have landed them in personally and also the company, and how implementation of the checklists aims to combat this. No more unnecessary late nights working, equipment turning up on time and pre checked before being delivered to site. The benefits are huge.

However, no one really likes being told what to do. Especially if the team has been left to their own devices to deliver a project as typically happens. There is a fine line between micromanaging and checking in to make sure instructions have been followed. Open and honest 2-way conversation is critical. Engage with the team with feedback and find out what is working and what isn’t. getting buy in from them is really important. Staff members must get why the business is doing what it is doing, want to do it and also have the capacity to do the job to the level set out.  If this isn’t the case, it’s best to shift them to a different role where they do fit or agree that the job isn’t suitable for them and let them go.

Learning from the Patterns of Mistakes & Failures

Mistakes and failures do happen. The great thing about failures and mistakes is that they can be learnt from. Embrace when things don’t go accordingly to plan and build the resolutions into your check lists. A check list document should continually be updated, it should be treated as a live document.

It is important to not let the same thing continually happen. It is the responsibility of the whole team to flag up when a mistake is made. If the mistakes are embraced and learnt from and not viewed as a negative but a positive that can help improve the business and slowly the mindset of the team will change over time.


Checklists help get things right. They can be applied to all areas of the business not just the operational side of installing a cinema or media room. Home Technology company owners have a hard time juggling so many responsibilities and priorities of Clients that it can be difficult to get the basics right sometimes. By creating checklists, it reduces the mental burden. It is the start of building a company that relies less on the owner and more on the staff running the operation.

Starting with the operational side of the business will ensure that you align your expectations with your team’s. they will understand what is acceptable in your eyes. It creates a culture of how things are done in your business. It also allows for honest and open communication because the rules or checklists are there for everyone to see and follow.

There are occasions where relying on a team member to just do the right thing is necessary, but it should be the exception and not the norm. The chances are that the choice they make is more likely to be in line with what you might hope for if the lists are actively being used and adopted by the team.