Monday, 15 December 2014

Digital Job Board, The Key to My Success in 2014

We all know that maintaining a golf course requires a lot of labor, and the cost of this labor makes up a big portion of our budgets. Last year I was coming off a very difficult year labor-wise and was facing further budget restrictions. In order to meet my budget restrictions it was obvious that I needed to do something to maximize my labor efficiency. I needed to do more with less. Following a detailed analysis it became obvious that we had a lot of room for improvement. There is nothing better than having a lot of room for improvement when working to reduce a budget.

I needed a plan. I started out by setting a few goals to guide me;

  • Staff do majority of mowing before golfers teed off
  • No overtime
  • All essential jobs covered during regular hours by my staff, not me.
  • Reduce the extra hours for me...I needed to balance my work/family life
  • Reduce or maintain current labor budget.
  • I was not scheduled for any regular maintenance practices, as I am the mechanic, irrigation tech, and everything else. I needed to be flexible.
As you can see, the above list had some tough requirements, and as far as I was concerned, they were not optional.

I laid out all the regular tasks that were required for normal maintenance and assigned the amount of time required to do each job under ideal circumstances.

This allowed me to assign my labor force to cover the amount of work required. This is where I came up with the idea to use 2 part-time staff instead of 1 full time staff. This allowed me to get more done quickly in the early morning hours before golfers started play. I increased my available labor during the time when they were most efficient.

Having a plan is only half the battle, though. Implementing this plan is the other half and just as important as the plan. I needed to cast a critical eye on how I assigned tasks in the past, and come up with solutions to make my planning more effective. With better planning and communication I could maximize my labor force efficiency.

In the past I would assign tasks in person each morning, going off the top of my head with maybe a day or two planned ahead of time. This obviously wasn't ideal! On my days off (the few that I actually had) I would write the daily tasks on a piece of paper and pin it to the shop door!

I decided to not reinvent the wheel. What were the guys at high end clubs doing? How did they manage their large labor forces efficiently? The guys at TPC Sawgrass had posted about their digital job board so I decided to see how they did it and what others were doing.

I asked twitter for feedback and got a lot of really good examples. It appeared that the majority of people were using spreadsheets put up on a tv in the lunchroom to lay out the assigned jobs for the day. The beauty of this system is that most shops already have the components to put this together, and even if you didn't, the components were relatively cheap.

Like everything I do, I decided to plan my digital job board system with a series of requirements that would help it meet my needs.
  • It had to be simple to use and to read, if it's not easy you won't use it.
  • Easily accessed by staff
  • Ability for me to plan 2 weeks in advanced with automatic updates
  • Ability for me to update it from home, or in the field from my phone.
  • Ability to show up to 3 tasks per day per staff member and other relevant info.
  • Show other relevant information as it relates to maintenance activities

As I was already a power user of Google's cloud service, Google Drive, I decided that this would be the perfect tool for me to implement my job board. For those who don't know, Google Drive is a cloud based storage service that has the ability to create documents, slideshows, and spreadsheets, all in your internet browser and for free!
Early planning stages of my spreadsheet, I like to draw it out
It didn't take me long to put a rough job board together. You can see my current job board here and feel free to copy is for yourself. As you can see there isn't much happening here at the moment as it's just me this time of year and I'm just fixing mowers and writing blog posts.

Early view of my job board
One thing I noticed about all the other job boards people had shared with me was that they all needed to be updated each day. I didn't have time for this especially on my days off. I needed the ability to update it ahead of time. I built a planner that would allow me to assign tasks up to 2 weeks in advance. This worked great as my scheduled maintenance plan followed a 2 week cycle. The main job board would update each day with the tasks I had assigned for that day on the planner sheet. This sheet would be where I would add data that I wanted to show up on my spreadsheet. The main job board sheet would just be a user friendly way of displaying this info.

Planner sheet.
I also wanted it to be easily visible. I noticed a lot of the job boards shared with me had many staff on each page. I wanted my staff to be able to read it from across the shop even on a small 32-Inch LED TV . For this reason I put 5 staff on each job board page. I could then create more pages if I had more staff (luckily for me I only have 4 staff plus myself). If you have a bigger staff you can make more "job board" pages and then just rotate through the tabs with a chrome extension such as revolver. I also put a weather page in the rotation so the staff can see what to expect. This feature also saves your tv from damage caused from burn in.
Job board rotates through different screens to save my screen


My next challenge was to have a good way to show this job board to my staff. I only had an old computer in my office and I didn't want my staff using my office or computer. I also had virtually no budget. I needed a simple and cost effective way to put this all together. What I decided to use was a chormebox paired with a32-Inch LED TV
asus chromebox

An ASUS CHROMEBOX is a small cloud computer. I runs on the chrome operating system and relies completely on internet access. The best part was the amazing performance, size and price (~$220). It also has the ability to run 2 screens! I created a staff login and could share the job board with them. That way they could log into the computer and see everything that I wanted them to see.

I bought the cheapest screen I could (32" tv) and mounted it on my work bench. Another way to easily get the data from your computer to your tv would be a Google Chromecast dongle (~$35). This way you could use your current computer to send the job board to a tv without running expensive wires.

Putting It All Together

Now that I had the software and hardware put together the next issue would be actually using it. The hardest part was getting staff trained to look at the board in the morning and periodically during the day. It is not uncommon for me to make changes as I do my morning rounds each day. I make these changes on my phone through the Google sheets app.

Having the ability to finally plan out ahead of time really helped me maximize my available labor force. I could ensure that all required tasks would be completed. Furthermore, I didn't have to chase down staff to assign changes to their schedules. They also didn't have to chase me down if they needed further instructions.

On my days off I could check the weather at 4am, then update the day's activities for my staff to reflect the actual conditions, all without leaving my bed!

I added features that would indicate shift start times, and any tournaments and special considerations. Furthermore they would be able to see what was happening on the course a day in advance from the main job board page. 

Before long I found that my staff would be checking on their tasks and course events for the following day before leaving work. Often they would come in early all on their own to get the jobs done before golfers showed up.

The real proof of success was that I used my labor more efficiently than ever before and did it under budget for labor! Even better, I actually had a few days off this summer! The odd day where I had to leave the course unexpectedly, I could rest assured that my staff had the direction needed to get everything done. I even managed their tasks while I was on holidays in June! When my son was born 2 weeks early in mid September I could change our plans from aerating greens to regular maintenance duties from the hospital! 

For some (especially smaller operations) the cost of this system might make it unrealistic but consider this. My ROI for this system was the first 2 weeks I had it in operation. The amount of work that was being done, and the efficiency of that work, was amazing! Knowing ahead of time what needed to be done really helped my staff manage their time wisely. I was able to meet all of my labor efficiency goals for 2014 and came in under budget for labor!

If anyone likes my job board and wants to implement something similar for their club, feel free to send me an email. I would love to help anyone set this up to match their operation and staffing levels.

For an example job board that you can copy and edit for youself, check out the following link.