Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Turfenomics: Productivity Part 2 Bottlenecks and Deadlines

Project management 101 is all about the bottleneck. A bottleneck is "one process in a chain of processes, such that its limited capacity reduces the capacity of the whole chain. The result of having a bottleneck are stalls in production, supply overstock, pressure from customers and low employee morale.[1] There are both short and long-term bottlenecks. Short-term bottlenecks are temporary and are not normally a significant problem." - wikipedia 

Everyone knows that you can drink more beer from a cup than a bottle. Reduce the bottleneck and achieve more!

In my last post (Turfenomics: Productivity Part 1; Productivity Starts With You) I discussed how you need to ensure that your production goals are realistic for the available resources. In this post I will discuss the various ways we can increase productivity by being aware of maintenance bottlenecks.

Often the most obvious and painful bottlenecks are short term. It kills me when staff don't show up for work or the aerifier breaks on the first green leaving the entire staff waiting for it to be fixed before productions can begin. While these are the most obvious they might not be the most costly unless they occur regularly. Calculating the costs of these short term bottlenecks is important if you want to improve the quality of your equipment fleet or maybe offer a higher wage to good employees who show up for work every day.

Long term bottlenecks occur all the time and are often less obvious but just as costly to turf maintenance. An example of a long term bottleneck is when you are spraying greens behind a single triplex greens mower. For us, we can cut our greens in 4 hours and can spray them in less than 2 hours. Generally we want to cut the greens before they are sprayed but also need the sprayer to be right behind the greens mower because spraying has to happen ahead of golfer play. As the greens mower is slower than the sprayer, it becomes the bottleneck forcing a loss of production to the spraying operation. In our case it is a 50% loss of production which causes spraying to take twice as long as it should and we lose 2 hours of work that day.

We can address this bottleneck in a few different ways;

  • Cut greens faster. If we send out 2 greens mowers we can get all of our greens cut in 2 hours allowing the sprayer to spray at maximum productivity. Basically no time is wasted in this situation. This does, however, require an extra mower and an extra staff member to pull off. It also doubles the amount of time you spend servicing greens mower equipment, washing equipment off, warming equipment up, and other losses of productivity associated with staff (washroom breaks etc.).
  • Slow down the sprayer. No I don't mean make the sprayer physically drive slower. If we add work to the sprayer's duties, they can become productive in the time that they are forced to wait behind the mower bottleneck. We could get the sprayer to also change holes or hand rake bunkers for example and reduce the negative consequences of the bottleneck. This isn't always ideal but it doesn't require any additional equipment or staff and ensures that you are maximally productive. As long as you can cut greens ahead of play, this solution offers you increased productivity and lower capital and staffing costs. Every low-budget super knows all about this strategy.
  • Stagger equipment start times. We could also send out the greens mower 2 hours ahead of the sprayer. This way, both jobs are finished at the same time. It also staggers any staff congestion that can occur in the maintenance shop when everyone shows up at once. The sprayer doesn't have to wait. This isn't always ideal as going out to cut greens too early could result in dew falling back onto the turf. This isn't an issue if the spray needs to be watered in.
To identify bottlenecks we need to just look for where people or equipment are forced to wait. It's pretty obvious in the example above but sometimes less obvious. Take mowing during play, for example. If mowers are waiting for golfers to hit their shot could this be considered a bottleneck to the operations? How can we eliminate this? I'll talk a lot more about this is my upcoming post "Turfenomics: Productivity Part 4: Mower Efficiency and Golfers."

It's useful to periodically take a step back and try and identify new or developing bottlenecks in the operations.

Golfers are a huge bottleneck as described briefly above but they also generally are a bottleneck by forcing some processes to be finished by a certain time. This is our deadline or the time that we need to be finished by to avoid the bottleneck. We need to get the greens cut ahead of play. The deadline depends on whether the golfers are teeing off of the first hole or are doing a shotgun start.

Cutting greens takes 4 hours with one triplex mower. If the first group of golfers finishes their round in 3 hours we need to start 1 hour before the first group to stay ahead of play. In the shotgun scenario, we need to start 4 hours ahead of play to finish before golfers start out. If you can't start 4 hours before the bottle neck you'll need to add more resources to get the job done. If this isn't possible the shotgun might have to wait 3 hours longer than if you just teed off the first hole. For processes that take longer than 4 hours this increases the time that we have to start ahead of play or increases the amount of time that we are mowing during play which has a huge impact on productivity as well. Again, I'll discuss this further in a future post.

This is one of the reasons that shotguns are so difficult to work around on a golf course. They are extremely convenient for the golfer, but can drastically increase the resources that are required to ensure that the work gets done on time. A great way to double a maintenance budget is to regularly have shotgun events. Maybe it's worth it but if the tee sheet isn't full and groups are spaced out across the entire course, you are only increasing maintenance costs and preventing more work from being done. Less with More!

It's one thing to identify a bottleneck but it's another thing entirely to assign a cost to it. While we know in our hearts (LOL) what the impact of these bottlenecks are, you will have a hard time convincing anyone of these impacts without assigning a dollar value to the bottleneck. What is the benefit of the shotgun start vs what is the cost of having the resources required to prepare for that start?

Let's use the sprayer example above. To calculate the cost of this bottleneck we need to figure out how long we are waiting and what our costs are per hour. This is easier said than done and needs to take into account the sprayer operator's labor (often the superintendent or highest paid grounds person) fuel, equipment maintenance etc. Fixed costs like leases aren't impacted as much by this in the short term unless your solution is to add more equipment which might be worth it if you have sold out shotguns that require greens to be sprayed and cut in 2 hours ahead of play.

In the example above the bottleneck costs the superintendent 25% of their work day (working extra hours isn't productive, right?), 25% more in fuel, 25% more in scheduled maintenance (oil changes are based on equipment hour-meter and sprayers run to keep product mixed). etc. Take you entire maintenance budget and just throw away 25% of that. While this isn't exactly what we are doing here 25% is a huge number! I would consider anything over 6% to be worth addressing (half an hour's time in a 8 hr work day).

If we add work to the sprayer duties we still spend the extra labor, fuel and equipment maintenance but we also decrease the costs of other operations. Say we change pins while spraying and say this job takes 2 hours (I know you can do it faster but I'm keeping the math simple for you ok). We add 2 hours of pins to spraying and decrease the time spent changing holes that day by 100%. Changing holes still requires someone to drive around the course and you were doing that anyway with the sprayer. Less staff, less equipment and less travel time. Obviously right?

I'll share one more example. In our case during the reduced staffing levels during this covid19 situation we have used delayed tee times to give the staff more room to prepare the course. While this is more for the fairway and rough operations we can also use this to benefit the greens operations. Our greens bottleneck is to be finished at 11 am as our first tee time is at 8 am and it takes 3 hours for them to finish 18 holes. Rolling greens takes 3 hours so if we start at 5 am we will be done with 2 hours to spare.

Sure, we could go out and rake bunkers or do pins separately with one person (after greens are rolled) but we will risk getting caught in play and lose productivity travelling around the course for a second or third time. In this case we can slow down the roller production by adding work and saving time. In our case I add pins and hand raking bunkers to the list. This takes me 6 hours to complete which is exactly how much time I have. Normally I would budget 3 hours for the roller, 4 hours for bunkers and 2 hours for pins. That's 9 hours of labor being done in 6 or a 33% savings. Not only do we save time, we save the need for additional equipment for our pin setter, and bunker rakers. Of course, this does increase the potential for disruption caused by short term bottleneck like the person who is doing all this work pulling a no show. Now nothing gets done! If you had instead used 3 staff for this job you might still get the greens rolled and bunkers raked or some other combination of the 3 jobs if one person decided to "sleep in." You can also get all the jobs done sooner which is important if you have a deadline like an early first tee or a shotgun to prepare for.


By easing tee time bottlenecks, we can improve productivity and do more with less without working harder.

This is what they mean by "work smarter, not harder." My staff's reaction to me doing all this work by myself ahead of play is that I must be working myself to exhaustion because normally we spend 9+ hours doing that work but I'm doing it in 6. Nope, I hardly break a sweat because I'm not working harder, I'm taking advantage of some easy productivity gains and knowing where my bottleneck is so that I can be the most productive with my time which allows me to go get all the work done and go home on time every day.

I shared this photo in the last post, now you know HOW it's possible to do it all without working yourself to death.

I really is amazing what can be done with various budget levels. A $300,000 budget might be able to produce similar conditions with less equipment than a $600,000 budget course but they will be less able to be productive with tighter tee time bottlenecks to production. It's unfortunate, however, that those that have the most restrictive bottlenecks often also have the lowest budgets where courses with the highest budgets are afforded "Maintenance Mondays" or course closures during major disruptive process like aerification. It takes a low production capacity (low budget) and hurts it further with unrealistic bottlenecks that aren't always based on actual data. If you don't calculate the cost of these bottlenecks, you can't compare the loss of productivity to the gain in revenue or customer service. While it might seem that the high budget courses can afford to close down you might be surprised to learn that the low budgets probably can't afford not to close every now and then to be able to allow for increased productivity of their scarce and valuable resources.

A number that comes up often when I look at productivity gains is 30%. Assuming that you aren't already addressing bottlenecks in you maintenance production, you could save 30% or more on your budget or do 30% more with the same level of resources. Work smarter, not harder eh!

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