What are we looking at? Tips to be effective in the field

May 24, 2023 -  By
(Photo: artisteer/iStock / Getty Images Plus /Getty Images)

(Photo: artisteer/iStock / Getty Images Plus /Getty Images)

There’s nothing easy or obvious about effectively managing people in the field. Communication is hard. So are motivation, education and developing skills. Nevertheless, we deliver the value we sell in the field.

Enormous opportunities and risks are inherent in how your teams execute. Let’s start by considering what to look for.

Safety: Safety should be the top priority. Make it straightforward. Are the crews wearing PPE? Is the truck properly coned? Are the crew members using the equipment properly? Are there particular hazards on the site? Assessing safety is a moral and financial responsibility that shouldn’t take long.

Quality: Quality is considerably more nuanced. Landscapes vary from simple to elaborate. The value clients place on their landscape varies from a lot to very little. The maturity and history of a particular landscape impact what’s possible and reasonable. Assessing quality must be based on the minimum standards of your organization and on the property itself. Most organizations have a minimum standard of green, mowed turf, reasonably weed-free beds and maintained ornamentals. Most experienced managers can recognize good quality and react to deficiencies.

Evaluating productivity

Productivity is a big lens that you must look at, especially with planning, training and efficiency. Planning involves assessing the scope, time, equipment, people and sequence.

Scope: Is the crew performing the right scope? If they perform more than or less than the scope, there’s an issue with how the crew understood or the team planned for the job.

Time: Time consideration matters in multiple dimensions. Schedule retail clients early in the day. The same goes for medical buildings. Service hotels midday. Each activity’s duration matters. If a mowing activity takes three times as many labor hours as all the other activities, it plays into how many mowers you should deploy, given the crew size. Understanding activity duration is key to developing a balanced plan that levels the workload between crew members. This creates accountability for a reasonable pace and level of production.

Equipment: The size, type, number of units and safety considerations matter when considering equipment. Most of us dispatch a standard set of equipment on our trucks, and yet we see crews jockey equipment around from truck to truck daily. Why? Because equipment needs vary from site to site. Not having the right equipment puts a big dent in productivity.

People: People considerations matter in terms of having the right skill sets and numbers. More people do not necessarily mean greater efficiency. Great mower operators may not be the best choice for detail work.

Sequence: For weekly service visits, it’s more efficient to have the detail and pruning activities happen before mowing. String trimming follows after mowing. Ensuring this happens is a matter of both planning and training. For landscape enhancements, the sequence is demo, infrastructure (drainage and irrigation), hardscape, trees, shrubs, sod, mulch and cleanup. Not all enhancement jobs have all these services, but the order remains the same. Getting these elements out of sequence is costly and frustrating.

Evaluating efficiency

You can gain efficiency by eliminating activities that do not add value to the client. Unnecessary string trimming adds no value. Mowing dry or stressed turf does not provide client value. Deadheading back to the truck for fuel does not provide value. Reducing steps and activities that add no value increases productivity without asking people to work harder. It takes practice to develop the ability to see the steps and activities that do not add value to your business. It takes planning and training to counter them, but this is a key to sustainable efficiency.

Learning what to look for is only the first step to effective field management. But all journeys start in the same place — the first step. Deliberate consideration of safety, quality and productivity is a great first step.

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