Hybrid Project Management: MaximizinG Your Time and Resources

Features - Management

Can’t decide whether a task requires a contractor or in-house labor? Anthony Williams, CGCS, explains why incorporating both might be a wise decision for your course.

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February 11, 2019

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The traditional philosophy of project management within the golf course management industry involves two options. The first one is a contracted project approach, which are historically used for larger tasks completed by a contractor (outside source) using only their resources to complete a specific scope of work that has been contracted by both parties. The second is the in-house project approach where current resources and equipment within the property operation are used to complete special projects that exist in addition to the normally expected maintenance of the property.

However, there is a third more innovative approach to golf course project management: hybrid project management approach. These hybrid projects take the best of the contracted and in-house approaches. By crafting a win-win fusion, the golf course management professional achieves maximum use of time and resources. Hybrid projects require strong negotiation skills and documentation to prove the value of the process. Six key areas lead to success within the hybrid project management philosophy: transparent scope of work, connecting projects, flex labor, bartering, schedules and incentives, and documentation.

Transparent scope of work

The first step to a well-managed hybrid project is to create a transparent scope of work agreed upon by all stakeholders (in-house staff, contractors, owners/managers). This is the step where we start with the end results desired and work backward, identifying responsibilities and quantities of materials, labor, access, critical dates, equipment and other pertinent items. Once established, this document will guide the efforts and establish accountability. If a formal contract is required, this represents the phase it would be generated. And if a less formal handshake is all that is needed, then this is the phase for that as well. The ultimate goal is to generate a scope of work all parties can use as a guide throughout the project from bidding to final punch lists and payment. The motto here is to plan the work and then work the plan.

Connecting projects

One advantage to a hybrid approach to project management is that you can connect projects to maximize productivity and minimize any business disruption. One example of this would be realizing that a cart path replacement project, whether small or large, is approved and being scheduled. You evaluate other pending projects and realize your bunkers need new sand. By combining the projects and moving all the heavy materials first (any transport damage would be to existing paths and turf that are already marked for replacement) and completing the cart path project as the final stage of the combined projects, you will protect the integrity of the cart paths and enjoy the leverage to negotiate better pricing as a multi-task project. The key here is to find synergy and logic within the planned projects themselves. In the end, this approach will generate savings in scale and order of work.

Flex labor

Labor is often the crux of a hybrid project. Strive to work with the contractor to find the best ways to use the outside labor blended with your in-house labor. By doing this, you will achieve more with less. For example, in a difficult labor market, you may consider a flex labor approach. Flex labor is using a mix of contracted and in-house labor tracking individual hours/rates to be paid to the project or to the basic payroll. This is an outside-the-box answer to an old problem and will require excellent documentation skills, but by putting the best available people against the most critical tasks, you will maximize productivity. When flex labor strategies are used, you increase your potential for success exponentially. It is important to communicate the processes within your operation, especially to accounting and senior management so everyone is aware of the details. You may also establish a relationship to use contracted labor for tournament preparation or specific tasks. I have, from time to time, negotiated labor pricing for me to supervise several local tree crews to expedite storm cleanup using climbers and saw men from the contractor, and our laborers to pull brush and chip debris. Be creative and see how many ways you can find flex labor solutions.

Bartering

In the old days of golf course management, we used a lot of farm or agronomic tactics, especially when it came to project management. The best one was bartering. I will trade you what I have (items or skills) that you need for what you have (items or skills) that I need. This can be simple, things like you have fuel onsite so rather than setting up a temporary fuel depot for contracted equipment you trade XX gallons of fuel for additional grading and shaping work. There may also be opportunities for multi-course bartering where several superintendents go in partnership to maximize resources they can afford collectively, but not individually. I have been part of negotiations that brought discounts on contracted services like aeration or spraying because of the relationships of local superintendents (increased buying power) and vendors thinking outside the box. The laws of supply and demand are always in effect so knowing the value of materials and skills within a given market can make a difference in everyday transactions. I once bartered for a load of topdressing sand that was en route to another club. There is always a way to make a deal if everyone wins!

Schedules and incentives

One of the best ways to ensure hybrid projects are successful is to combine the schedules of the projects with incentives rewarding excellence. This area is clear. Regardless of the job, people work better, smarter and happier when there is a little extra incentive. But that incentive must be connected to clear deadlines and expectations.

This ties back to scope of work, but also is critical to the execution of tasks especially if unexpected circumstances present themselves. The obvious is a completion bonus if all work is completed to standard by a given date. The not so obvious could range from a free lunch for top performers that covered trenches in time for a key inspection or giving a set of new rain gear to staff/contractors that kept moving forward despite inclement weather. My favorite rain gear of all-time was a gift from my boss for grinding a project through heavy rains. The best strategy is to ask upfront, what it will take to reach the deadline, overcome the obstacle, deliver the miracle and then deliver on any promises made.

Documentation

During the first project that I managed as a superintendent, one of my trusted mentors told me something that helped me as a project manager. He said trust but verify and document everything so you can show the value of your decisions, now and in the future. Whether your notes are hand written or on your cell phone is not as important as having the information about your project available to use as needed. Pictures are great, dates and change orders are amazing. Weather records impacting deadlines are also important. The goal in the documentation within a hybrid project is to capture all the deals and details, and ensure the scope of work was completed and all parties were compensated as agreed within the process. I would also recommend that you store your documentation in more than one place.

A few years ago, our shop literally collapsed and computers and files alike were lost. The documents that were stored in the company cloud or separate hard drives survived, and the rest were lost. When it comes to documentation, the value of your information is in direct proportion to your attention to detail and the ability to access the documents on demand.

Project management is a big part of the success of any superintendent. By using a hybrid project management philosophy, you can create synergy and flexibility to maximize available resources. Of course, there are times where the standard approaches of contracted and in-house project management will be the best method. However, if you evaluate the needs and complexity of your unique situation(s) and employ the value of the six key areas of hybrid project success, you will be able to personalize every project while reaching new levels of achievement.

Anthony Williams, CGCS, is the director of golf course maintenance and landscaping at the Four Seasons Resort Club Dallas at Las Colinas in Irving, Texas.