Saving Labor

I want to share a story with you about how we were able to eliminate the hours needed for our trimming/detail work by 70%.  These numbers are not made up, and we increased our quality along the way.  When I first took this position, it took 28 man hours to complete the string trimming/edging/blowing on the property.  We call this job detailing.  This equated to two employees for an entire day and 6 hours the following day.  This is how it had been done for years, and no one saw a problem with it. 

From some previous time studies I had completed with myself as the test subject, I just could not fathom the amount of time that it was taking.  I have always had a “just get it done” mentality, but even without that, I could not understand the time being used.  I am sure that you have jobs on your properties that fit these criteria.  You probably have many tasks.  I know we still have some and I have been working on it for 5 years. 

I’d like to present a learning moment for any young managers reading this.  Don’t do what I did next.  I felt that it was just pure laziness that caused the slow speeds and a general lack of caring.  I went into my hard-nosed mode of management and just pushed them to get done faster, and I did see good results.  Within a few weeks, we had reduced our time down to 16 man hours and could complete the job in one day.  I thought it was a great success.  However, I was more focused on speed and saving hours than inspecting the work being completed.  It was horrendous.  I was trained to complete your job perfectly.  As a manager, I was trained to send people back to fix any mistakes so I could help train them instead of training myself.  I had forgotten these lessons in my quest for speed.  A new path was needed.

I was getting the expected push back from employees during this time.  No one seemed to understand that the balance between quality and quantity does not need to act like a see-saw.  You can have both or a lack of both.  I want both.  I changed my thought process from one of speed to efficiency.  We all have noticed that work in the afternoons is slower than the morning.  This is just a simple physical response to the heat and humidity.  So the best way I saw to speed jobs up was to have them finish before it got hot.  In Alabama, that means as soon as possible! 

I cleared my schedule for a day and just watched the crew work, without taking a break.  I made notes of the routing they took and the so called pinch points that wasted obvious time. The picture was starting to come together.  The quality of work in the morning was great.  It started to drift off as the temperatures warmed up.  People were running out of fuel at the furthest point from the cart, or running out of string on the farthest section of a lake.  I also saw sections that were shared in a wasteful fashion.  For example, we have a 7 acre lake that needs to be trimmed.  The cart would be parked at a good location and two people would go in opposite directions about the pond.  They would then finish at the furthest point and have to walk back 8 minutes to the cart.  Between the two people, this wasted 16 minutes.  This was repeated again and again on different areas of the property.

Come back tomorrow and take a look at the program we put in place to fix this and the method that we used.