Mowing seems untouched in today's over-analyzed business world. Shouldn't we be doing time-motion studies to make sure we have the most efficient mower for particular sites and checking the productivity of employees on a biweekly basis? Are we hiring people who walk the fastest and straightest? Maybe we should pay people by the miles they mow.

While consultants might be imploring landscapers to cut grass as infrequently as possible in the least amount of time, the individual most likely to choose a career in landscape maintenance is thinking about turf quality and an impressive pattern. God forbid a crew member go insane and double cut a lawn to make it stand out from all others in the neighborhood. By the way, there is proof that mowing frequency increases turf density.

Let's not forget one more piece of vital information, the mechanic's expertise on equipment maintenance. Do we maintain and operate our equipment in ways that provide the longest, most reliable life? The mechanic thinks in terms of engine specs and hours of operation. The operator is thinking clean cut from sharp blades and no breakdowns.

Equipment operation has to be a team effort. While the buck stops at the president's desk, it is made in the field. The salesperson that bids work has to appreciate what the customer wants and what his crews can realistically do. The operator who performs the work must understand what the salesperson promised. The mechanic has to make sure the operator has the equipment to meet the contract. They are all linked together.

The ultimate team concept is combat. The goal is not money, but survival. A tank that is poorly maintained might fail in its mission. Blame falls on the general, and the general sends it down the ladder. Procedures are established to instill responsibility for maintenance with the motor pool, the operator, and his superiors. Everyone has some responsibility!

It's odd, but today I treat my cars like I treated my jeep as a PFC in the army. I don't go on a trip without checking tires, oil, and cooling system. My cars have all lasted much longer than my neighbors and looked better. The lessons learned preparing for combat have continued to help me meet today's missions.

The same goes for mowers. Check oil and filters daily, look for signs of dull blades, keep track of hours of operation, and keep them clean. Small things add up to big savings. Operators should be able to communicate with mechanics and report anything abnormal. Keep a log for each piece of equipment.

You?ll find that with the time you save by not having breakdowns, you might be able to put some pizzazz in the mowing pattern of customers' lawns. They notice little things like striping. Sometimes, those little things keep them from switching to a competitor just for price. When you are able to keep equipment longer than your competition, you have a cost advantage and can compete better with price.

When a mower fails unpredictably, it is not one person's fault; it is the fault of the team. However, operators are closest to their equipment and they should develop practices that make it operate reliably and last longer. They are the ones who must communicate problems to mechanics. And the manager needs to give the mechanics the resources to respond to the operators' reports. Without smooth running mowers, no amount of time-motion improvement can increase profits.

Reprinted from Southwest Tree & Turf