Monday, 18 May 2020

Turfenomics: Productivity Part 1, Productivity Starts With You

Productivity starts with you. Productivity is loosely defined as how much work you can do in a given amount of time. It's a measure of efficiency. For mowing we measure this in ha/hr (in all but 2 countries on Earth). Production is what you can do with a given productivity and level of resources or how much grass you can cut with one person who has a certain level of productivity.

We don't start early because it's fun, we start early because it's more productive and a great way to catch the occasional bitching sunrise. Every superintendent knows this.

While every single superintendent I have met understands the economics of golf course maintenance to some degree, I find it useful to write this stuff down so you can reflect on it and maybe be more deliberate in how you address these problems. Here's my poorly educated but somewhat experienced attempt at addressing productivity in golf maintenance.



During the last few crazy months I have done a lot of thinking about the economics of golf course maintenance. Our course closure in April and working with minimal staff have afforded me the opportunity to learn about how we maintain the course to an extreme degree.

Despite being short a few thousand hours of labor this year (see chart below), we haven't been working ourselves to death. I almost feel bad for how stress free I am....but not really. I feel great actually.

Cumulative labor hours per year

Instead we have been working within our means to do what is most important until the time comes that we can return to normal. Is the course falling apart with such a reduction in labor? You tell me.

 Edged and hand raked bunkers? No way with only 3 staff...wrong Overtime? Nope.

Turf is lean but we are actually growing more grass this year than last

part of our success lies in finding ways to maximize productivity

While certainly far from perfect and quite different than we would normally have the course, things are being maintained and it's not a total disaster despite having only 30% of the normal resources available.

I've always been in a situation like this where I would like to do more but only have limited resources. We all know what needs to be done but few superintendents are offered the opportunity to actually do everything that they want to do to make the course the best that it can be.

The work on any golf course is almost limitless. It's why some courses have 60 staff and some have 3. If you wanted to, you could almost always do more. At some point we have to work within our means and accept that there is only so much that we can do. There's no way that you accomplish what 60 people do with only 3 people and there's no way that you can do what 6 people do with only 3 people.  The difference is smaller but it's still hard to pull off especially if all other things are equal. You can try but good luck pulling it off for more than a few days.

It's a lot easier said than done to say you will work within your means but superintendents almost never do this and as a result suffer from burnout and other stress related conditions. This was the main theme in a video I made a few years ago about stress in golf course maintenance. If we understand this stress and the economics of golf maintenance better, then maybe we can do a better job and feel less stressed. Who knows but I think it's worth working towards.

One of the most useful tools I have developed to manage MY expectations and communicate what we are capable of doing is my "Required Weekly Maintenance" spreadsheet. This spreadsheet outlines all the normal tasks that we do on the course and assigns a labor value to each job per day. It then compares the total labor for each day against the actual labor available and gives you a useful tool to plan and understand just what is possible with what you have. This tool is the backbone of our Maintenance Standard.

Below is the current table that we have with our 3 full time staff. I haven't filled in most of the lower portion of the table as we use our extra time to jump on opportunities to do these tasks when appropriate. We just don't have the resources currently to schedule these tasks regularly.

A lot more goes into something like this than initially meets the eye. Sure we can assign an hour value to each task but so much goes into how long a task can take. This is what my "Turfenomics: Productivity Part 2" will discuss in more detail. This also has to take things like available mowers, labor laws and staff skill limitations into account. It looks simple but is actually quite complex.

When putting one of these table together you need to estimate high on the amount of time it takes to do a job. My equipment use database is useful to help me understand just how much time we spend on various tasks. We need to understand that many things influence how fast we can do a job (again, see the next part of this series) and plan accordingly. We want our staff to do the work without being rushed. Budget more time than you need or suffer the consequences. You might be able to pull it off the the week of the club championships but don't bank on it long term. Don't.

This isn't a rigid mowing plan. It's a goal to work towards and something we can use to plan. Some weeks it will rain which makes mowing tough but others will be hot and dry reducing our needs to mow and allowing us more time to water and fix pipe. It's flexible, be flexible eh.

I then classify the jobs according to whether or not they are things that we need to do regularly or on a schedule. These are typically jobs like mowing, rolling and raking. The meat and potatoes of our operation. I compare how much of our total labor we spend on these tasks and this gives me a ratio as seen on the row titled "mower operation percent of total labor" near the bottom of the table. It's a bit of a mouthful but this is my 10 years running draft table OK so give me a break.

In my experience on lower budget courses, I don't want to see this ratio go over 60% ever. I wonder what it would be like for the highest budget courses but can only dream. I'd love to know though.

We only want to spend 6 out of every 10 hours doing scheduled course maintenance leaving 4 hours for other stuff. This, I think, is key to avoiding disaster. It allows flexibility to address issues while allowing you time to jump on opportunities to do more when it's ideal. An example of this would be how yesterday (Sunday) it was raining quite hard and there few few golfers on the course. We used this available course space to get ahead of rough mowing for this week. Having extra time is essential to do this kind of thing. It also allows for times when there is a loss of productivity to weather or staff just feeling tired or unwell. We can't expect robot like production from our staff unless they are actually robots.

If you are booked absolutely solid, all it takes is one thing to go wrong to derail the entire operation. Start small and keep the regular stuff to less than 60%! This tool makes it easy to "under-promise and over-deliver."

Some days we are over the 60% limit and this is OK but more often than not, it is on these days that we lose ground. If you don't have enough resources to keep the basics below this 60% threshold, do less, add resources, or find ways to be more productive (next post). Doing more with less only helps today with a compromise tomorrow. 

Another benefit that I have found from a tool like this is that it removes the personal aspect of turf maintenance. How many times have you been told when getting a new piece of equipment how much easier it will make your job? To me this is a weird way of looking at it. If you think about it, new modern equipment only makes your life easier if it allows you to do the same amount of work when you were doing too much to start with. Generally, new improved equipment shouldn't make your life easier, it should allow you to do more. If you were working too much before, you will still work too much with added resources. More resources does not mean that our job gets easier, it means that we do more. More resources = More Production!

Our new chipper didn't make tree work any easier, just ask the staff. It did, however, allow us to do more tree work faster!

This is one of the lessons I learned while commuting to work on my bike from 2015 to 2018. Day 1 was hard but so was day 1000. Sure my ass didn't hurt anymore but the effort I put into riding the 500 km each month was the same. I got home a few minutes quicker but I was just as tired. I had more physical resources at my disposal but I put in the same big effort. More does not mean easier!

Biking also taught me energy management. I couldn't work myself to death because I had to leave something for the ride home. On the ride into work I couldn't go hard because I needed steam to do the work! You can learn a lot about life by riding a bike.

I recently tweeted one of our guiding principles as seen below.

As a rule, I don't approve overtime....ever. If I want to do more work I know that the only sustainable way to do that is to add more resources. Working overtime is a fantastic way to lower productivity and increase costs. Doing less with more! No thanks.

I often get funny looks when I say this. Of course we can't just add resources at our fancy. This is why we need to work WITHIN our resources and stay sane.

Major irrigation break? Can I isolate it and fix it tomorrow? If yes, then that's what we do. We try not to keep our grass that much on edge for any longer than necessary that we are required to fix a leaky pipe right now.

Essentially do what you can and no more. This allows you be productive and as good as you can be all the time. We also need to realize that "our best" varies from day to day and so does everyone else's. We aren't robots but the machine below is and it has spent over 2000 hours in the last year mowing only 1 fairway! Talk about a machine!

I'll end this first part with a recommended reading blog post and a quote from that post;

"There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. Being busy is about working harder while being productive is about working smarter. Being busy is frantic while being productive is focused. Being busy is fueled by perfectionism while being productive is fueled by purpose. Being busy is about being good at everything while being productive is about being great at a few important things"

So remember, productivity starts with you being the best that you can be and that means that you do the preventative maintenance required like resting, sleeping and spending time away from the course. Recharge and Repeat!

See you eventually in part 2.

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