Case Study: How Earth, Turf, & Wood estimated and managed a 6-month-long backyard paradise project, accurately and profitably
Company President, Jarod Hynson, says that DynaScape Manage360 was the tool they needed to handle an ambitious project and keep it in the black.
Have a look at the gorgeous backyard paradise project showcased in this YouTube video and ask yourself this: if it had been your landscape company’s project – which required six months, two full-time crews, numerous additional contractors, and almost 150 labor codes – how would you have managed it?
More to the point, how would you be able to estimate it, track it, and complete it in a way that remained profitable, bringing the same profit margins in at the end that you had estimated at the beginning?
That was the challenge that faced Jarod Hynson, President of Earth, Turf, & Wood in central Pennsylvania. Landing a job of that size was another high in his company’s impressive list of achievements – one of their top five largest jobs to date, he says – and managing it required a significant amount of time, attention, and accuracy in order to keep the project on track and profitable through all of the requirements and change orders that a job of that size involves.
Luckily, he had some help. “We used DynaScape’s Manage360 software extensively for this project,” said Mr. Hynson. “We tracked every minute of every day in it, for production. And we estimated the whole thing with it, from the beginning.”
In fact, it’s because his company had been using Manage360 for several years already that they were even able to take on such a large job. “I wouldn’t have done anything of this size without having a program like Manage360 to help me deliver the proper estimate,” he said. “On a project of this size, if you don’t have the estimating down right, you could literally cripple a company. I hate to say it, but you may not survive a project like this! You get so far upside down and all of a sudden there’s 20, 30, 40, 100 thousand dollars worth of hours and material that you didn’t account for in your estimate? That’s right off your bottom line. It’s extremely dangerous.
“We had a tremendous amount of man-hours slated for this job, and when we went into it, we leaned heavily on Manage360 to make sure that we came out the other side where we were supposed to come out. Because it’s like setting off in a rowboat across the ocean and hoping that you’ll find England eventually.
“And with Manage360, we did! At the end, we were very, very close to our original estimate of hours. We ran over in just a couple of areas, and that’s only because we didn’t have accurate data on two fairly new installation techniques that were kind of a pilot program. So we had to guess on those two work areas, and they were the only ones where we ended up going over in hours. But, now we’ve got accurate data on that kind of work too, to formulate new kits for future estimates.”
Change orders made easy
A key feature of Manage360 that helped Earth, Turf, & Wood to stay on top of this backyard paradise project was the software’s Change Order module. “There were a significant number of changes, mainly upgrades, in this project, so we used the change order module quite heavily. Not only did it allow us to maintain a certain profit margin that we needed to have on the job, but it also really helped us calculate the schedule, based on man-hours that we added with each of the change orders.”
How does it work? “Our landscape architect meets with the customer to discuss the requested change, and then we attach a production kit to it and formulate an estimate, which we can turn around quickly for the customer’s approval. We don’t start anything new on the site without a signed change order.
“We learned, over many years of doing it, that much of a pain in the neck as they can be at times, if you develop the habit of issuing a change order for every change request, it keeps everybody on a level playing surface. Even if it’s just a color change. It takes all of the unknowns out of the production, especially when it comes time for the final invoice. Because the final invoice should just be an affirmation of all of the change orders and the original contract that was issued for the job. Once the customers get used to our process, I think they appreciate it, because they know exactly where they’re at, cost-wise, on the project.
“And the software really helps us. At any point, we can go into Manage360 and see what change orders were approved and what change orders are pending. And it’s very accurate, because you’re using the same production kits that you used to formulate the original estimate for the job. So there’s a lot of consistency that flows through from the original estimate right through all the change orders.”
Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy
Like the real estate maxim about the importance of ‘location, location, location’, what Mr. Hynson points to most about Manage360’s value to his business is its accuracy. “We’ve been using Manage360 probably for about four years now, and I would say in the last two years, we’ve really got this thing dialed in. To the point where we are within probably 1% of estimated man-hours in production versus actual. It’s extremely accurate. I just looked at a spreadsheet the other day to see how close we were annually on estimated vs. actual, and we’re very, very close.
“It’s extremely difficult to estimate a job of this size accurately. That’s why we get many different sets of eyes on it. It’s a very big number at the beginning, and an even bigger number for the customer by the end, but when we dissect it, we know it’s right – it’s all there in the software. It’s all attached in man-hours.”
What he means by “having Manage360 dialed in” is that in his opinion, its estimating accuracy is a result of them having monitored each job, compared estimated vs. actual, and adjusted the production kits when necessary. “If you’re not willing to commit to the timesheet and to tracking all of it, you’re just creating estimates. At the end of the project, you won’t be able to figure out why you’re over hours, and why your production is taking so much longer in the field than you originally estimated. It’s because you haven’t gone back in and adjusted those kits. You haven’t tried to find out what the true hours and materials really are on these things. Until you’re willing to commit to that, you’re never going to get your estimating right, because you’re never comparing. You’re just spinning your wheels.
“It frustrates me to no end when I hear Manage360 users who say they use it just for estimating. How in the world do you know if your estimates are right if you’re not tracking it in production on the back end? Because that’s where you have to go back in and readjust your kits. Sure, it’s painstaking for a while. It takes months to get to that point. But once you get it there, it will dramatically change the way your company operates, and your bottom line.”
Detailed monitoring capabilities
Manage360 provides his crew with other project monitoring advantages as well. “We’re very strict about not spending customer deposits before they’re earned, and with Manage360, at the end of each week, we can go in and look at the analysis tab on the job, see how much revenue was generated on that project the prior week, and then take that into account on our cash flow statements.
“Of course, this requires drilling it into the crews in the field that every minute of every day has to be assigned to a work area or cost code. It has to be. From punch in time to punch out time, every minute of every day has to be put somewhere. Then we enter that information – all the crews’ timesheets – into Manage360. On a daily basis.”
So there’s a fair degree of discipline required? “There is. You have to be committed to it. You really do. It’s like if you buy a brand new vehicle and you don’t maintain it, the pieces are going to fly off of it in no time flat. To get the most out of the program, you have to commit to a process. Whatever you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it.”
The time savings are significant
Preparing an accurate estimate for a job of this size could take days for some companies, but Mr. Hynson said that with Manage360, “we had some fairly accurate preliminary numbers on the original contract within 3 hours. It doesn’t take long when you’ve got all the production kits and history. It’s just a matter of assigning different kits to different work areas.
“People are blown away when I say that with Manage360 I can sit down and estimate, say, a half-million-dollar project in just a few hours and be very accurate with it. It comes down to tracking and being diligent. There are companies that would spend weeks with it and they still don’t know! We base our numbers on 15 years of experience, and we track every minute of every day, so it’s not like we’re guessing.”
Your professionalism shows
Asked if the software helped them with their relationship with their customer throughout the six months of the project, Mr. Hynson replied, “Yes, I think so; they knew that we were very detailed and very accurate with what we proposed for them, and how we were willing to execute it. The customer could see that we’re very professional and that that level of professionalism was going to be there from Day One all the way through to the end.
“The software also ensures that our change orders have the same margins as our original contract. We’re not a company that’s looking to make a ridiculous amount of money on change orders. We’ll treat you fair. Whether we add it in now or we add it in later, it’s going to be the same price. I believe very strongly in that.
“The customer appreciated that. And they were extremely happy with the final product.”
Good for jobs of any size
Mr. Hynson had one other piece of advice for landscape companies looking at Manage360. “I don’t want it to come across like it’s just a program for large projects. The best thing you can do is start with very small, five, ten or fifteen thousand dollar jobs and use the program for them. Get comfortable with it, and eventually grow into some bigger projects. I would say it’s a great program for all sizes of projects.”
For more information:
About Earth, Turf, & Wood: www.earthturfwood.com
About DS|Manage360: www.dynascape.com/manage360