Friday, 22 May 2020

Turfenomics: Productivity Part 3 Brute Force and the Opportunity Algorithm

In the first part of this series I talked about how I don't like to spend more than 60% of my labor resources on scheduled maintenance practices like mowing, rolling and raking. I find that if I spend more that 60% of my labor force on these tasks that we don't have time for the other stuff. This also helps ensure that we set a realistic maintenance standard that lets us easily work within our current level of resources. I can then use the remaining 40% of my labor to do everything else.

There's a lot more to greenkeeping than just mowing so even though we can easily handle the main part of the operation with 60% of our labor, we need to be as efficient as possible with the remaining 40% to ensure that we can still get it all done. This requires a combination of finesse and brute force where brute force will require more resources but will get the job done now and finesse will generally use less resources but you might have to wait for the opportune time to do the job.

To me, brute force is defined as doing a job in a less productive way necessitated by less than ideal conditions or circumstances. Generally, it will get work done quicker but in some cases it will result in less than ideal conditions or be less efficient or more costly. 

Using brute force to mow areas that were neglected during the shutdown.

An example of brute force being slower would be doing something that is so inefficient that by the time you are done it, you are forced to brute force it again. This is exactly what happened to our bunkers this spring. With no staff in April, they were overgrown with weeds. To do a perfect job we need to spend 5 hours per bunker to fix them, the only trouble is that with our current level of resources this will take us many months to get around to all the bunkers. By this time the first bunkers we weeded will be again overrun with weeds. We needed to take a less than perfect approach to get to them all without being bogged down with brute force tactics. We can then finesse them into better conditions and keep them from getting worse in the process.

"Don't let perfect be the enemy of good."

The classic brute force situation that I think we can all relate to is when we schedule aerification months in advance to find that it's pouring rain and all your equipment is somehow broken. Despite these challenges we push through and get the job done. It's not fun or efficient but ultimately we get it done. In short bursts brute force is totally acceptable for most but if it's required in your daily routine then you might be either doing too much or spending more than you need to. 

For many courses, brute force is business as usual. If you have the money to do it like this all the power to you! Things like hand mowing greens (or rough) do produce slightly better turf than other more efficient methods but they do take a lot more effort and labor to accomplish. It's less productive than a triplex mower but the loss of productivity of your staff is justified by the increased quality of cut and wear from turning a heavy mower in the greens surrounds. It all depends on how much money and staff you have at your disposal. 

Brute force can also be more efficient in some ways as it gets things done NOW. Take major championship golf for example. A great way to quickly finish raking 18 acres of bunkers is to employ (volunteers of course) 150 bunker staff! It could be done by one person but they wouldn't get halfway through the job before they needed to start over! I guess everything we do has some varying level of brute force to it, we just need to adjust how much or little we rely on these tactics for our given situation. Remember, resources don't make your life easier, they just allow you to do more.

I've never had as much money or staff as I'd like but I also like to do as much as possible while still working within my resource level. The only way that it's possible for me to do more is to do things with finesse and avoid brute force at all costs.

Most superintendents I know employ lists to some extent but if we are just checking tasks off the list with brute force tactics we might never reach the end! It can be as simple as putting a set of conditions that need to be met to efficiently do each task that can allow you to maximize the limited resources that you have because as I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, literally every budget level of golf club has limited resources to some extent. We all would love to do more.

A tool that I use is my opportunity algorithm. This is just a fancy name for a list of various tasks that need to be done and the ideal conditions for us to do them under. This allows me to pick the best thing to do given the current level of available resources, weather, plant health needs, etc. Fit the task to the situation.

It goes like this: If this -> then that

An example of my winter algorithm is this:

If it's frosty/snowy --> cut down trees. We can't be on the turf, there are no golfers and it's dry which keeps you dry! The cool weather also keeps you from overheating during this physically demanding work. Frost delays are only for the golfers. For the maintenance staff we kick it into high gear!

If it's rainy --> equipment maintenance, shop cleanup and organization, course drainage work, root prune! It rains here a lot so this is when we do the big work on equipment maintenance and when I figure out ways to get more data! Spreadsheet tutorials anyone?

If it's dry and warm --> sod work, mow, cut down more trees! Smooth rough areas etc.

Golfer's aren't much of a concern in the winter months so the algorithm is mostly weather based.

How does the saying go? "Make wood chips when the snow falls?"


In the summer I also need to take plant health and traffic levels into account and we are doing less projects and more scheduled maintenance work.

If it's busy and nice -- > cut as much grass ahead of play then do equipment maintenance and other odd jobs in the later, less productive part of the day. This is our "business as usual" plan of attack.

If it's wet and slow -- > fertilize fairways and other large areas. This is an excellent time to do disruptive practices that aren't impacted by the rain. Things like fertilizing fairways, applying wetting agents, and topdressing greens can actually be enhanced by the rain! If I see a rainy day in the forecast I will put these kinds of practices off instead of forcing them when it's nice and busy on the course. There is nothing worse than rushing these practices ahead of a busy tee sheet.

If it's dry and slow -- > spray everything! 

Of course there are times when I need to do things like spray greens when the timing isn't perfect and this forces me to brute force the job. We get it done but productivity isn't always the best and over time this can really add up. Ideally we have enough flexibility in our schedule that when the opportune time arises, we can be free to act and maximize our efficiency for that given task. The same is true for mowing in the rain, its not ideal but we sometimes need to do it and need to expect a loss of productivity as a result. 

Most superintendents classify their jobs in a similar manner but what they don't do is write down those ideal conditions that need to occur for maximum productivity to be possible. Writing it down makes choosing what you can do much easier when the conditions are not what you had hoped for.

If you are caught off guard by a rainy day you can easily find something that is productive to do and this will help you get ahead instead of slowly fall behind. Maximize today!

I see quite often other people's algorithm looking like this:

If it's rainy --> go home because I overworked myself last week when it was dry and couldn't find anything productive to do during the rain.

If it's sunny--> overwork yourself because nothing got done while it was rainy and now I'm doing jobs I could have done while it was raining and I went home early.

To me this isn't what balance looks like. Sure, to some extent we need to "make hay when the sun shines" but we can also take advantage of poor weather to get caught up with a less than busy golf course. Remember, only 60% of our time should be spent on tasks like mowing (in my opinion anyway) so there are a TON of other things that we can be doing when we are forced to stop mowing and not all of them require good weather.

I also totally get that sometimes you just need to take a break when you can, so totally do that and don't feel guilty for doing so but also try and manage you expectations to within your budget and avoid working beyond it if possible. This is made easier by being productive no matter what the situation is. Easier said than done, I know.

I've said this over and over again in the blog post series but there is obviously more than one way to skin the cat and I cannot say what is right for your situation because I don't know what your situation is. All I hope to do is outline the different situations so that if maybe you find what you are doing isn't working, you can identify the problem and make change. Maybe you need to brute force more things or maybe you needs some more finesse. To me, this is where the art in greenkeeping is found. Balancing the two to ultimately do the best that you can with the resources that you have.


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