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Formulas for Success

How landscape companies facilitate a seamless morning rollout to set up the day for success.

April 13, 2015

When you press “snooze” and begin the day rushed, the day tends to unfold at a harried pace. You’re running behind before you ever get started. But when you prepare the night before, wake up with a plan, stick to a schedule and know what’s expected, you can accomplish goals and tackle any surprises that crop up. You gain a sense of control.

In an operations-focused business like landscaping, morning dispatch is a critical time that sets the tone for the day and factors into a company’s profitability. This month, Lawn & Landscape spoke with three firms about the systems that make rollout go smoothly.

 

Setting expectations

Minimizing variables and mitigating risk – that’s the goal underpinning morning rollout systems at DLC Resources, headquartered in Phoenix. Specifically, a “3, 5, 1E” protocol is the basis for preparing vehicles for proper equipment. Crews are responsible for filling out materials forms to ensure that necessary equipment and materials are on the truck for the week’s jobs.

The “3” is for three days notice for equipment that deviates from the regular lineup, and the “5” is for five days notice for plant material and fertilizer. The “1E” is for exceptions, which always occur but DLC attempts to minimize through reporting. “We can always deal with last-minute changes the same day, but we want that to be the exception not the norm,” says Jeff Penney, CEO and co-founder.

Electronic request forms are completed by smartphone or via email to make equipment and materials requests in advance. “We have an accounting process where shop managers send out 3, 5 1E violations,” Penney adds. “When there is someone who is chronically breaking the rules, then we have a follow-up (disciplinary) process.”

Setting expectations is critical to executing a smooth rollout. At DLC, there are three dispatch times at the two locations (Phoenix and Avondale) that are adjusted seasonally. During summer, start time can begin as early as 4:30 a.m., with crews departing every half hour. Trucks are loaded the night before and there are two inspection processes prior to leaving the facility.

Crews perform a 360 inspection to ensure that equipment is properly fastened onto the vehicle, tires have appropriate air and the truck is clean. 1E requests could be made during this time if a crew needs a part or piece of equipment – but again, that should be an exception. The field manager performs a final inspection before rollout.

Then, once crews arrive on site – average drive time to accounts is 45 minutes – they perform another type of rollout in the form of a pre-task plan. “It’s a sheet of paper and the crew gathers around, and it could include two people or 10, but they discuss what they have to accomplish that day and how they are going to do it,” Penney says.

Then, the foreman takes the task list a step further. “We say, ‘All right, what are the risks that we face with regards to accidents or injury, and what behaviors are we going to employ to minimize those risks?’” Penney says.

“The pre-task plan is a method of getting some interaction with the crews,” Penney says, adding that the foreman isn’t always the point person. “Even if a crewmember has only been with us for a month, he might do the pre-task plan one day and we help him with it,” he says.

Fostering accountability is a big part of facilitating a smooth rollout. With these systems in place, and a Speak Up, Listen Up program, where any employee at any level can point out poor behaviors and safety violations on the spot, workers are always keeping each other in check. Penney shares that one crewmember asked him upon arrival on site if he had a safety vest to wear. “That was perfectly legitimate, and I commended him,” Penney says.

Rollout is routine, but Penney never wants it to be on cruise-control. “The whole challenge here is for us to battle routine,” he says of the pre-task plans and interaction through Speak Up, Listen Up. “Because routines cause complacency.”

 

Marking time

The morning dispatch paints a distinct picture of how operations are going at a landscape maintenance firm if you ask Brian Steele, who says observing rollout is one of the first items on his task list when evaluating a green industry firm’s “health.”

The trend he notices among struggling companies is inefficient, unorganized rollout. “Dispatch tells you a lot about the operational component of a business,” says Steele, region operations manager, ABM Onsite Services – West.

“The more predictability you breed into the business, the better,” he adds. That is accomplished with careful planning. “We can’t manage the weather, but there are some activities we can do that make operations more predictable.”

What smooth-running operations have in common is stable, consistent crews and a planning protocol. “We happen to plan one month at a time,” Steele says, relating the importance of getting organized when you manage six landscape branches like he does. Well-run operations also have tagging systems in place for equipment repair and a mechanic in-house with a different work schedule than crews. You want that team member to be fixing equipment before and after crews are in the field, not during.

And, perhaps the most critical piece is leadership that owns the rollout process and sets the tone for smooth running. “Leadership must be visible during dispatch, and that’s an expectation for our branch managers,” Steele says. “Any branch manager that is not focused on dispatch is missing it – that’s the most important part of the day. And, you have to be present to set the pace and tone for the day.”

Actually, rollout for the morning starts the prior day when leads prepare forms for equipment and materials, which are routed to supervisors and managers. “When crews clock out at the end of the day, they are ready to come to work in the morning and pull out of the driveway,” Steele says, noting that vehicles are washed and stocked before shift-end. Also, equipment that needs to be repaired is tagged.

In the morning, leads arrive 15 minutes before crews and there is a hard start time for employees. “The expectation is that crews start work at 6:30 a.m. and they are out of the gate by 6:45,” Steele says, relating that staggered dispatch times help with any exit logjams. Crews know their clock-in and departure times.

Steele says one branch was struggling with rollout, and he set a hard line on departure. “I said, ‘Starting a week from today, when that gate closes if you are not out of the gate, you’re not out of the gate,’” he says, noting that plenty of communication preceded this decision. “You have to make dispatch part of the culture.”

That’s because every wasted minute is money out the door.

“If you are not efficient and streamlined, you are giving money away,” he says.

 

Build accountability

The morning routine starts the day before at HighGrove Partners in Austell, Ga., which runs 70-plus crews among its landscape service groups. That’s about 225 crewmembers that exit the facility by 6:30 a.m. every morning.

When trucks return at the end of the day, usually about 4 p.m., they are washed and loaded for the next day. Equipment that requires repair is tagged and left for mechanics that work past crewmembers’ shifts. And, crews fuel up vehicles on the way back to the shop. “They are required to sharpen blades, have their trucks packed up and locked down,” says Gary Tomlinson, vice president of operations.

In the morning, crews have 15 minutes to gather, talk safety and get out the door. To prepare, supervisors (who drive the trucks) arrive at 6 a.m. and study the crew’s notebook and time sheet. They review the daily route and discuss necessary changes. “We have a hard line on what time employees have to arrive in the morning,” Tomlinson adds.

Systems underscore the expectations at HighGrove. End-of-day vehicle prep activities are steered by a check sheet and an inspection to ensure that trucks are prepared. “It’s about managing the process from start to finish,” Tomlinson says.

And in the morning, crews are absolutely expected to arrive at 6:15 unless managers are notified of an uncontrollable circumstance. “We do have some guys that ride a bus, and we’ll get a call that it’s running late so we’ll run up (to the stop) and pick them up,” Tomlinson says, relating that managers do everything possible to keep crews on schedule. It’s a team effort that starts at the top.

Also, HighGrove shares numbers with employees to help them understand why every minute matters. “We tell them that for every five minutes wasted in the shop per person, that’s 15 minutes for a three-man crew and we explain what that costs in dollars,” Tomlinson says.

Accountability is critical to keeping rollout moving smoothly. “People respect what you inspect,” Tomlinson says, relaying a managerial adage. “You have to lead the process and managers have to enforce expectations, and check and double-check that everyone is doing their part.”

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