Quality control of multiple garden landscape installation teams

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Quality control of multiple garden landscape installation teams

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    Craig de Necker

    I run an award-winning landscape design and build company with five installation teams on the road (installation only, no garden maintenance). We are not only landscapers, we offer a turnkey service using numerous skills including designing, planting, garden-related construction, irrigation, water features, pools and custom fabrication.

    Each team is headed by a team leader whose job it is to ensure that the designs are followed and that the quality of the installation is what we expect it to be.

    My team leaders each have a digital camera to document work progress, quality and problems (and potential problems) on site. I review the photos each day when the teams are back in the office.

    Unfortunately I don’t have the time to personally visit the different sites as often as I would like due to my other work commitments (I typically work a 16 hour day and still don’t get everything done). I meet with the clients once the garden is complete and try to pop in during installation when I can, but whenever I do visit a site, I see problems that I believe should be obvious to my team leaders, yet seem to be missed completely.

    I am looking to incentivize my team leaders in order to increase quality levels, but can’t seem to find the solution.

    Are there any landscapers out there who run a design and build company who have similar problems or who can offer any advice on how to keep team leaders / project managers quality-conscious?

    If you would like to see the type of work that we perform – you can see many examples of our work on our website – http://www.thefriendlyplant.co.za

    mark foster

     “but whenever I do visit a site, I see problems that I believe should be obvious to my team leaders, yet seem to be missed completely”.

    Are they just not seeing it, are they making a value judgement about quality which is below your standard, or do they not have the technical skills to pull it off? 


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    These are not abilities that you can make through incentives. The either have the ability or they don’t. If they don’t, it takes years to develop through working with those that do. You don’t have time to develop them, so you either have to find people who have the ability, deal with their lack of ability, or cut back to a manageable size.


    This is the same when just dealing with small work crews. Most of the time you can tell them and show them what you need them to do. When you leave and come back, you wonder what got lost in the translation. This is the most limiting factor in growing a company in the landscape installation business.


    Managing installations is a very hands on job.


    This is also why I left contracting and will never have an employee again.

    Craig de Necker

    Thanks for your reply Mark,

    They do have the technical skills to pull it off, I think it’s more about laziness and hoping that no one will notice.

    Craig de Necker

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the reply. In the early days, i was the site manager, I was everything but in order to grow the business, I had to start hiring other people to assist with installations… I know that in the States, there are numerous very big landscaping design and build companies and I would love to know how they deal with quality control issues.

    I also find that when one has trained up the staff to a good level of performance vs quality, they start looking to start their own company – mostly these businesses do not last even a year, but it causes massive disruption to our activities.

    I can easily see why one would want to leave the contracting side to someone else.

    mark foster

     I have found that if an employee’s desire and technical experience is sufficient, this is usually the fault of the person at the top (que the mirror!!!).  The “quantity vs. quality” tension is omnipresent, and having been on both sides (employee/employer) I know there can be some real mixed messages.

    As we all know, materials and overhead are largely a constant, which leaves labor costs as the main way to squeeze profitability.  Thus, I have found the problems usually lies with the person at the top…. It doesn’t help to preach “quality” occasionally if the constant drumbeat is “hurry up” (which, if even not said, is expressed nonetheless) 

    To counter this, I usually tell the team leader where it is important to slow down, because I found they don’t have the perspective that I have and thus don’t get the hierarchy of importance.  For example, it doesn’t really matter that a fall-off grade be exactly 4:1, but it really matters that the centerpiece firepit be perfect… In essence, I give them permission to ignore the constant “hurry up” message in certain instances.

    To employee loyalty:  the best candidates for these positions are usually those who have run their own businesses (unsuccessfully) and know the grass is not that green on the other side.   I also don’t worry too much about the ones that leave–many times they become my subcontractors and/or referrals.  I always try to leave the bridge unburned.

    I made the decision to scale back about 10 years ago–largely due to my own tolerances and a mid life crisis.  I admire the ones who take it to the next level as you are doing..  It is not an easy height to scale (pun intended)  🙂


    Jordan Lockman

    I think that the best thing you can do is to treat the installers like they have a career too. The best foremen I ever worked with were in the business for multiple decades and prided themselves in the work they did. It was not just a summer gig for them it was their career. They went to the same education sessions I did and were very professional. Maybe the answer is to make the team leads partners in some way. Expect them to have the same continuing ed as your designers(pay for it). Require them to know what is expected on site as they leave. Create standards and hold them accountable, most people with a good work ethic will rise to any standard you set as long as they are rewarded in the end with a thank you, good pay, control on the project, etc.

    I know there are some places that everyone gets paid based on outcomes of projects instead of straight salary. So if they get it installed right the first time that saves a trip back to repair a project and saves money that they get a taste of.

    Craig de Necker

    Hi Mark,

    We have had mixed performance from people who previously had their own businesses, but your thinking makes sense – I think it’s a good idea to find out more information as to why the business was not successful… don’t want history to repeat itself… thanks for your insight

    Craig de Necker

    Hi Jordan,

    Yep – i think that a performance-based remuneration system could be a solution. The staff don’t understand the cost of having to re-install, re-anything… and of course there are also opportunity costs – ie delaying other work while sorting out problems that should not have been there in the first place.

    Heather Smith

    I agree with Jordan. If the work is completed correctly the first time and on time perhaps bonuses occasionally would be incentive enough. We thought of this…our business is MUCH smaller then yours we had hoped to have two crews but really have all four working on one project at this point. We are still learning how to manage multiple projects and so this will be hashed out over time. I almost wonder if you need another you? Can you hire another person that would be your assistant that could be visit these sites? Could the two of you share in the responsibility? I don’t think I would want to increase profit a little only to lose it because the quality of the work goes down. Building a good reputation is so hard, I would be tempted to have fewer crews so that you could manage them more effectively.

    Heather Smith

    I have heard a successful business person tell us not to do profit sharing…just some advice we had passed on to us. They said that anytime you hire a new person or buy a new piece of equipment the other employees see that as taking some of their money, because they don’t understand overhead, etc.

    Candace Mastel

    Having worked as a foreman for a medium sized landscape company I can attest that as soon as the crew leaders got enough experience and backing to start their own company, they did. If you are a good boss and a good man they will probably want to stick with you. However, they aren’t you. They won’t be able to necessarily see your vision. They might not have your training. Or, they might just want to bring home a paycheck and don’t get emotionally invested in the outcome of the project. Lots of variables here. You went big with your business and lost some day to day oversight. I agree with some of the posts below that encourage you to hone in on providing clarification to their role, their continuing ed and their ability to reinforce the mission of your company.

    Craig Anthony

    Craig – I’ll just start with the one thing that jumped out at me, please correct me if I’m wrong. It appears that you’re an establish d/b firm, so it seems like the biggest problem is that you’re working 16 hour days and your not able to do the most important thing (besides collecting money) and that’s making sure your crews are delivering the quality that you expect. I could understand if you were just starting out and putting in those kinds of hours, but you can’t go on at that pace forever. As a business guru told me when I was also living at work was that I eventually need to stop working in the business and start working on the business. In other words stop working harder and start working smarter.


    I’m guessing you’re probably like most people (me included) who have built a business from the ground up and you probably have your hand in every aspect of your business. As a business matures the owner needs to be less “hands on” and more of an observer. Maybe it’s time to focus on getting your staff better trained to your standards and turning them loose to do their job. Sink or float, if they can’t do the job find someone that can. Give yourself a new job as chief floater and cut the umbilical cord. Your business will be better and you’ll be able to bring a little more balance to your life.


    On a side note, your website scared me so much I almost didn’t want to look at your wonderful work. You’ve got some nice stuff.  

    Craig de Necker

    Hi Craig,

    Thanks for the kind comments about our work!

    Yep – I think you have pretty much hit the nail on the head. I work insane hours and my work is my life… I am looking to find an assistant-type person who has an eye for detail and can help me spread my workload a bit… its Sunday and I was at work at 06h45 this morning… not good!

    Ernst Glaeser


    Dear Craig,

    I’d started reading the whole chain of ping-pong mails and in the long run gave up. The most important thing is in your introduction sentence “I run …”.

    After that initial idea you got greedy. You started small, had done a great admirable job, wanted more, had to expand, got more people, more work, more hours, but you forgot to set the tomorrow standard.

    Slow down; reconsolidate your targets, and train – something only you can do – your folks. You are the one and only one whose head will be on a block. You had realized that looking at a few pics is not the answer. You know it, you see more, and other things then your guys in the field. It’s not that they don’t want to see it; they simply start getting institutionalized and blinkered. You have to work on them raising their awareness. And this will be an ongoing job. You as a boss are responsible for the quality. It is your ambition, your corporate identity, your future next job. Free advice: tackle it.

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