Production & profit are cornerstones of business and the free market.
Suffice it to say everything about your business should include considerations for production and making a profit. Doesn’t every business think this way? As a project manager who sees how different companies operate, I can tell you not everyone does.
You Can’t Produce (and Profit) Consistently Without Them
At the root of production and profit are “systems”. Some companies call them standard-operating-procedures.
Here are just some of the benefits of systems:
Systems by definition create consistency and productivity.
- They give your company clear procedures to teach employees.
- They demonstrate methods and concepts that can be applied in different situations.
- They simplify delegating work to your staff.
- They help create estimating formulas.
In a previous article we touched on the importance of “controlling and eliminating variables”. The systems you create help you do this. They help your crew know what to do and how to do it – consistently.
A System for Planting
Planting is a major part of what we do as landscape contractors. We’ve talked about some of the steps we take to ensure the right plant selection. So how do we now get them planted efficiently?
There are numerous variations of planting systems because each company will adapt to what works best for them. But there are some fundamental points every system should have.
- Each step of the process is in logical order.
- Each step has defined standards for quality and consistency.
- Each step is clearly delegated to the right worker(s).
One thing to look for when setting up systems is idle workers. It may mean tasks are not fully understood or too many people are involved. (Or you’ve got an employee attitude problem, but that’s another topic for another day.)
Let’s look at a planting situation where a row of boxwood will be part of a foundation planting.
Production always follows a logical order.
In the picture above the foundation area was first rough-graded. This sets the height and pitch of the planting bed.
While the crew is busy with other tasks, you can review the plan and finalize plant spacing.
Because the boxwood will be in a row, establish an equal distance from the building using a string line. Then, by setting the two end boxwood and measuring the distance in-between, calculate the spacing from plant to plant.
Typically all plant spacing is measured and calculated from “center-to-center” of plant.
With granular lime (you can use marking paint too) mark the centers of each plant. If you extend the lines of your marks generously, portions will remain even after the holes are dug. This provides an excellent reference for setting the plants in the holes exactly as they were marked.
In a system, tasks are defined and delegated.
The next logical step after marking plant centers is to dig the holes. In this instance 2 crew members do the work using long handled shovels and picks.
It’s helpful to distribute the excavated soil evenly around the holes. It makes the soil easily available when backfilling.
Also, leave some of the “existing” grade clear (w/o excavated soil) by each hole. It helps to reference this grade when setting the height of the root balls.
Keep the tasks and order of your system moving steadily.
“Steady wins the race.” Recklessly working fast is more often counter-productive.
To keep things moving in this planting system, once the the 2 crew guys have several holes dug and have moved down the line a bit, it’s time to start setting the plants.
This is an important step in this particular system because each plant must be set:
- Exactly as the spacing and centers were marked.
- At the proper height relative to the existing grade.
- With the nicest side of the plant facing the most viewed direction.
Match the worker to the task.
Everyone, including yourself, has their strengths. You know who’s got the better eye for accuracy, who’s most coordinated to cut a smooth bedline, who’s stronger for digging and lifting, etc. Choosing workers for tasks in a system is just like choosing the right tool. You wouldn’t use a sledge hammer to drive a finishing nail.
Eventually everybody gets to know their strengths and where they’re most effective by working within your systems.
The pace and production remains steady by moving predictably from one task to the next. For example, while the 2 guys are finishing up digging the holes, the plants are being set by someone with a good eye for accuracy. Once the holes are all dug, the 2 guys automatically shift to backfilling and planting.
Any related steps like preparing a planting mix, untying cord & burlap, removing tags, etc. can also be delegated so they fit into the “logical order”.
Once the plants are backfilled crew members move onto finish grading. Notice how the stones and debris are raked forward and left in piles for easy pick up.
Another Invaluable Benefit from Using Systems
When you build a business that does great work, and you operate by truly caring about customers’ expectations, an interesting thing happens. Relationships develop with trust.
One of the things that comes with customer trust is the occasional opportunity to work “time & materials” (often called “T & M”). This is where the customer essentially authorizes you to do the work without a fixed price. You keep track of the labor, equipment and materials and charge for those amounts.
This is an amazing privilege and should never be abused or taken for granted.
The Use of Systems is Not Optional
As you go through your day-to-day operations think about how you can create a system of logical steps with standardized details for tasks.
Before long (and with repetition) crew members recognize what needs to be done and move intuitively from one task to the next. Less and less has to be said and more work gets done with quality and consistency.
The systems you create will help minimize the variables and free up your time for management & customer relations.
And lets not forget about the benefits to your reputation. How your business operates and presents itself is the best way to demonstrate who you are and what you’re all about.