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Business software playbook

Features - Cover Story, Industry News

How to find the best software to run your company right.

Lindsey Getz | August 14, 2012

Quit throwing away precious man hours by getting bogged down in the details of running a business. Use our business software playbook to discover the tools that will save you time and grow your bottom line.

In a perfect world, you'd be able to delve into every aspect of your business, and still have a grasp at the 30,000-foot level. But, you’ve got a full schedule – lawns to mow, weeds to treat, customers to serve. So, we’ve gathered the intel on the latest from the business software world. Whether it’s improving communication with crewmembers via a better job site map, or having more efficient routes during a day, take a few minutes (well, maybe a little bit more) and read on to find out which product best suits your company's needs.
 



Visual communication


Job site maps are helping simplify projects and boost efficiency.

Today’s landscape contractors are getting very creative with job site maps. To help the foreman and crew leaders better communicate with crews on the front lines, some companies are diagramming everything from where to mow, trim, and prune to where to park and what equipment to use. Job site maps provide great visual communication and can even eliminate language barriers, making crews more efficient on the job.

The ability to easily produce a job site map has certainly made them increasingly popular. “Job site maps are being used more readily now that the tool has become easier to use and to get your hands on,” says Phil Key, vice president and director of Ruppert Landscape’s landscape management division in Laytonsville, Md. “Twenty years ago you had to ask the client for a blueprint of the building and parking lot. Today Google Earth is available for anyone to use. We also use Go iLawn pretty frequently which gives the ability to mark up the site plan pretty easily. You can measure with it, draw on it, and denote certain areas for certain things.”


Simplifying the process. Some landscape business owners are getting incredibly specific about marking up job site maps for the crew. “When you have a big property you can divide it into several sections so you can really get down to the specific details,” says Gary Gonzalez, production manager of Stay Green in Santa Clarita, Calif. “We can divide sections into quadrants in order to specifically tell the guys what to do in each section – edging here, mowing there, and so on.”

Ruppert’s snow plan

Job site maps have proved incredibly helpful in the snow maintenance division of Ruppert Landscape in Laytonsville, Md. For example, the shown map helps denote where snow should be piled on this particular job site. The exact location for these piles is determined after a conversation with the property manager. An area with good drainage and where melted snow will not run off into parking lots and re-freeze is important. This map also includes square footage which is an important number to know as it tells the crew members exactly how much product to use. Walkways are also delineated so that crews are reminded to use calcium in those areas (a more expensive product, but used only on walkways in most cases).

Gonzalez says he’s been using job site maps his entire career. He finds that people in the green industry tend to be more visual so having a site map that tells them what needs to get done is the most effective form of communication. “It makes it easier for crews to understand what needs to get done,” he says. “I also find that it makes them more likely to actually do all of the work as it was meant to be done in the first place.”

Job site maps can also simplify the communication process by eliminating a language barrier. Many landscape contractors say that job site maps are great for English to Spanish translations. Gonzalez says that while most of his crew can read English, he finds that everyone prefers a visual – whether their first language is English or not. “A lot of times they may even ignore the wording as they just prefer the visual,” says Gonzalez. “So we may do some color coordination on the map or find other ways to denote something important.”


Eliminating the guesswork. For Jarrett Qualls, owner of TurfBusters in Murfreesboro, Tenn., site maps help the company create daily schedules of where the production of our employees need to be for each day.

“Our large school campus that we maintain has events and parties all of the time,” says Qualls. “With the events being on different areas of the campus, with site maps we are able to focus on the landscape beds and turf that need our immediate attention.”

Chris Lee, president of Texas-based EarthWorks, says that they actually encourage clients to fax in requests on job site maps whether it is something irrigation or lawn care maintenance related. He says that some may see this as a burden on the client but he says it is actually doing them a favor. “If we send our crew out to a big apartment complex, we’re on the clock from the minute we arrive and that client is getting billed even if it takes us 30 minutes just to find the issue that needed to be taken care of,” says Lee. “With a job site map we know right where we’re going which can actually save the client money.”

Lee also says that job site maps can do a great job of helping clarify any confusion when it comes to large apartment complexes or other commercial properties. “We may get a call that there’s a broken head at building three,” Lee says.

Maintenance map

This job site map was provided by the client and shows an example of a map marked by a quality control supervisor with tasks for the mow crew to handle on their next service visit. EarthWorks in Lilian, Texas asks all of their clients to fax in requests on a job site map in order to expedite their exact needs. When a maintenance crew gets a map like this, it will go to the foreman along with his daily paperwork. The foreman is responsible for making sure it gets done whether he does it himself or assigns it to a crew member, the company president, Chris Lee, says. “The maps are then collected by the operations manager the next morning to verify that everything was completed.”

“We’ll send the crew out to building three and they’ll fix it and move on. So we’re confused when we get a call saying that the work order wasn’t fulfilled. That’s when we find out it was supposed to be on the backside of building three when we saw and fixed a broken head at the front of building three. The point is that a job site map would have clarified this confusion.”

The same thing goes for any lawn care maintenance requests. Lee says that when they get a very specific request on a large property it can be confusing for crews. “If we get a call for one little limb that’s brushing up against a window we may be able to get the crew to the right place but it might not be obvious what limb the client is talking about,” says Lee.

“With a job site map we can eliminate that confusion. We see exactly what limb they want trimmed.”


Walking a fine line. Key says that Ruppert Landscape uses job site maps most consistently for snow removal planning. “The first thing we do is outline priority areas – what’s the highest priority to the customer on that site,” he says. “Then we get into details such as what product is to be used in what areas. We’ll also mark no-plow areas that the customer has indicated they don’t want plowed perhaps because it’s a vacant building. And we’ll specifically lay out where to dump snow, which is one of the most critical things.

Snow will take time to melt so we need to know the best area where we can pile it up. Where the drainage is on the site comes into play because we need to know where the run-off water will go as the snow melts.”

While Ruppert Landscape likes to make use of maps to simplify jobs and improve efficiency, Key adds that it’s important they don’t detract from crew members’ ability to make important last minute decisions or flow with changes. “In large jobs we want to designate where crews will be and what type of equipment we are using in each area,” says Key. “But it’s a fine line because we also want to empower and teach our people to handle their own job sites instead of micromanaging too much of the detail.”

Overall job site maps makes owners’ lives easier. “Site maps are great and we would be lost without them on a larger property with numerous employees,” Qualls says.

“It sets everything in motion for the crew. From the second they arrive to the second they start the mower and even when they leave – everything is built into the map for them.


 

The author is a frequent contributor to Lawn & Landscape.

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