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How hand-off meetings help estimating and production staffs succeed.

Bob Franey, president of RF Landscape Services in St. Louis, Mo., has learned that having a system of communication is important when selling design/build work. Although plants and materials bring in a small profit through markups, successful landscape business owners know true profit is derived when man-hours bid match the man-hours produced.

Franey says that landscape business owners must be able to communicate these expectations to crews in order to achieve the goals. He learned the importance of having a system of communication the hard way. He didn’t have one—and it cost him.

In 1995, he did $1 million in business but made no money. In what he calls his “quest to never make that mistake again,” Franey sought out mentors who could show him what he could have done differently. What he learned, thanks to mentor Jim Martin, president of Chicago-area landscape company James Martin Associates, is that “everything is a system.” There isn’t one part of running a business that can’t be turned into a process.

Today, Franey’s company uses the same system he implemented when he was the only one doing the estimates. It includes regular communication with the whole team.

“Once we have the estimate together, we have what we call a hand-off meeting with our production team,” Franey says. “We then walk through the process of how we came to those man-hours and what we expect to happen.”

Similarly, after the job, the team holds a second meeting between production and estimating staffs to talk about whether they hit, exceeded or fell short of the estimate.

“If we fall short, then we immediately talk about why we missed it and troubleshoot solutions,” Franey says. “Was it a production issue and, if so, do we need better production supervision? Maybe the crew got to the job and the materials weren’t ready to go. We want to be looking at our production schedule a week out—or even further—to coordinate those deliveries and materials so that the crew doesn’t waste time waiting.”

Franey says that when man-hour goals are missed, he expects the production team to be “actively involved in why they fell short,” which he acknowledges can lead to some frank conversations. But he says that type of open communication is critical. The message has to make it all the way to the crew level to be effective.

“At the end of the day, I can estimate a job at whatever I want it to be, but if the crew can’t produce it in the amount of time I’ve estimated, we won’t be profitable,” Franey says. “When we hand the estimate off to the production team, we all need to be in agreement on our goal.”

As part of the hand-off meeting, Franey says a “production packet” breaks out every fine detail. For instance, for a retaining wall, the packet would break out details such as “how many hours are allotted for digging the trench” and “how many hours are allotted for stacking block.” With each detail broken out, it leaves “no room for any mystery,” he says, but he has heard other business owners express concern over being so open.

“I know people talk about not sharing information with crews, but my philosophy is, ‘Why wouldn’t you encourage them to be part of what you’re doing?’” Franey says.

In fact, Franey is now looking at ways that he can incentivize the process. He says he’d like to see crews think like business owners and understand that if the company succeeds, everyone shares the benefits.

“We’d like to encourage our crews to shave off man-hours and then reward them for making decisions that helped us do that,” Franey says. “For instance, the first thing a lot of crews do when they leave headquarters is find the nearest drive-through for coffee. But what if we could motivate them to just get right to work? We know that pit stop costs us production time. So, we’re looking at ways to incentivize the crews to make better decisions and to understand that, in the end, we all benefit when they do.”

Photo: RF Landscape Services

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Casey Payton

Payton is a freelance writer with eight years of experience writing about the landscape industry.

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