Supervisor training page

If you are training to be supervisor this means we think you have the potential to learn the skills needed to manage work sites and help the company move forwards. The position of supervisor comes with extra benefits such as pay and more freedom over your work. However it also comes with greater commitment and responsibility. 

As a landscape gardener you are primarily responsible for your own performance. As a supervisor you become responsible for the performance of everyone under you and the outcome of the job overall. You will be measured against the success of the job and on your own. 

This page is to help you with training to become a supervisor. Here we go through the criteria we are looking for, what each criteria means and how to achieve a “satisfactory” score in them. 

Aim of training: To equip supervisors with the skills and experience needed to run a effective work site. 

The training is broken down into 6 modules. You need a minimum score of satisfactory in 5 of them to qualify for promotion to supervisor. 

Progress targets will be set with your manager. Progress will be measured weekly and meetings held every 1 to 3 months to assess your goals and progress. 

This training is designed to give you the basic skills you need to supervise on site. There will still be a lot to learn after this and we expect supervisors to be proactive in improving their skills. 

The modules will have been added to your online progress reports where you can see your scores and your feedback. 

Modules (click to jump to section) 

  1. Planning
  2. Time keeping and quality control
  3. Bigger picture understanding
  4. Clear and timely communication
  5. Leadership and motivation
  6. Training and assessment

Module 1: Planning

Planning is where you figure out needs done, by who and in what order whilst considering any risks which could affect the outcome. To plan appropriately you need to understand the work and the bigger context it fits into.

Planning is the foundation of your progression from this point onward. Planning is arguably the most important part of your training and the most important skill you can develop. A good plan can make everything else easy.

Different people prefer different approaches to planning. Some prefer to have every detail written out and others prefer to have the wider plan sorted then remain flexible as they approach each part of the plan. Each way has its advantages. 

A detailed plan will make you less likely to miss any key details but will take more time, sometimes more time than its worth. Going into more detail is best for those with little experience as it helps you to avoid missing key details. 

A general plan can be used by those with more experience who know how to do things on the ground without too much thought. 

As a general rule, the larger and more complex the job the more detailed your plan will need to be. This is because its hard to hold lots of details in your head at the same time. If you cant hold the overall plan in your head, you need a written plan.

Assessment criteria  

To pass the planning module you will need to show competency in 5 areas. 
    1. Identification of tasks: Identify which individual tasks need completing. Here tasks should be grouped in the most logical way possible. You will need think through the job and write down all the tasks which need doing to achieve your final goal. Include all the small things so nothing is missed out. 
    2. Prioritisation: The best order for the tasks (consider time critical tasks e.g. if you need to do something before other things can happen). How will you make the best use of the man power available? Can people with no work be assigned to something else? Who is best for the job? Will doing one things slow other down? 
    3. Equipment and supplies: Identify what is needed at each stage to get the job done. This includes equipment, power, fuel, skips and anything else needed to get the jobs done. When can you get it? When does it need to be organised? 
    4. Risk assessment: Any risks apparent and how to mitigate them. Think about safety for staff, equipment and customer property. Repairing damage can often cost more than we make on a job so if we have to take longer to avoid risks this should be part of the plan. 
    5. Adaptability: Your ability to adapt the plan if things change or things pop up which were not considered in the plan. Most of the time there will be things we didn’t predict on a job. Things will get in the way, we forgot to sort something out etc. How do you make the most of a situation and minimise wasted time and money? 
 
 

Planning training

Planning training will be carried out on the job over 2 weeks. You will be given some time out each day to work on your planning. At the end of each week you will be given feedback on your progress and performance.

There are examples of plans and planning techniques below. Have a read of them to get a better idea of what we are looking for. 

week 1

Focus: Identification of tasks, prioritisation, equipment and supplies

Explanation: This week you will be going through the basics of planning a working day. Your manager will give you the end goal is for the day. He wont tell you what jobs need doing. You will have to work out a plan to get everything done. 

You will need to figure out what tasks need doing to make the end goal happen. Then you will need to work out what order they should be done in and what supplies are needed. After talking this through with your manager the team will follow the plan. 

This part is best done in writing to help you get your head around it. Your manager should give immediate feedback to help your learning.

Outcome: By end of week one the trainee should be able to come up with a reasonable daily plan of action based on the desired outcomes. This should include:

  • Clear identification of all tasks 
  • Logical prioritisation of tasks 
  • Correct allocation of equipment and supplies

Week 2

Focus: Risk assessment, advanced prioritisation
 
Explanation: This week you will expand on what you learnt last week. You will be looking at planning the week or the job then planning each day with that in mind. You will also be adding risk assessments to your plans.  

Planning a week will mean deciding what work comes first. Your manager should have already made arrangements for all the materials to be bought but you will need to work out when to use them and where to put them.

Risk assessments are where you look at what could go wrong and make a plan to avoid this happening. There is an example of this in the plan below and another example in the staff area on the website. Everyone needs informing about the risks and what we are doing to avoid them. 

Outcome: By the end of week 2 the trainee should understand the basics of putting together a plan for a job (or a week if the job is longer than a week). This will include: 
 
  • Clear identification of all tasks 
  • logical prioritisation of tasks
  • Correct allocation of equipment and supplies
  • Satisfactory risk assessment
 

Planning Example 1

The image above is a customer garden before we start work. It is a lumpy and uneven grass area which we are turning into what they have asked for in the image below 

We have to do a lot of different things to make this change happen. A plan is essential to make sure you have thought of everything. The old saying “10 minutes planning saves an hour in practice” is true and probably understates the amount of time planning saves. A plan can be used as a solid foundation for the first four of the assessment criteria: 

  1. Identification of tasks
  2. Prioritisation
  3. Risk assessment
  4. Equipment and supplies
 
The example plan below shows how this project could be planned. (there are other ways this could be done and improvements are always welcome) 
 
Have a look through and see if you can understand why everything is in there. Don’t worry about the quantities being wrong as they are just rough estimates. In real life this would be calculated properly. 

A good plan will take care of 90% of your worries and make sure the big things happen at the right time and in the right way. But no plan is ever perfect and things sometimes don’t go to plan. This is why the 5th part of planning is included: 

E. Adaptability 

Adaptability is your ability to change the plan as things progress. its also what you need when things go wrong. How do you make the best from a bad situation? 

Planning Example 2 

After starting the project above you discover that a skip wont be available for at least a week. You ask if you can use the driveway for waste until the skip arrives but they say no. What do you do? 

Option 1: You could consider taking it in the van on multiple trips to the tip? If a trip to the tip costs £40 (man hours plus tipping off) to avoid overloading the van you would have to do 6 trips and each trip takes 45 minutes. This would put the cost at £240 (£100 more than a skip) and increase the time on the job by at least 4 hours which would also reduce the profit from the job quite a lot. 

Option 2: Find a place to put the waste which wont be too much in the way and just leave that part until next week. This wont cost any money but it may involve splitting the job as you were expecting to come back this week. This would mean moving other jobs forwards, moving equipment around twice. You estimate this would add an extra 4 hours to the job. 

Option 3: A grab wagon is available tomorrow and will be able to get everything but you will have to use the driveway. The customer uses it after work to park and doesn’t want it damaged by rubble. The grab wagon will cost the same as the skip but there is a risk of it damaging the driveway. 

 

This table is a numerical demonstration of how you could analyse the different options to make a decision. 0 represents the lowest and 5 represents the highest so we are looking for the lowest score. This option is likely to have the least negative impact. 

Option 1 is clearly terrible as it adds lots of time and costs more, option 2 slows down the work but is relatively risk free, option 3 is fast and cheap but there is a high risk of upsetting the customer and causing damage. In this situation option 2 would be the best as its only cost is some extra time.  

This is a pretty classic example of issues you may have to face as a supervisor. There is no good option so its about choosing the best one. In a situation like this it always best to confirm with your manager to make sure there aren’t any bigger picture considerations or other options you hadn’t thought of. 

Module 2: Time keeping and quality control

The planning talked about in module 1 helps us to get the work organised and make sure everything gets done. But on its own this isn’t enough. For the business to be successful we need to keep customers happy, build and good reputation and get things done fast.

In short, time keeping and quality control take the work we do and make sure its worth it. If the work gets done but too slowly, we make no money and the business will eventually fail. If we get the work done fast but there are mistakes we will end up with bad reviews which means less work and struggling business.

Time keeping and quality control are often neglected but without them, its pretty unlikely the business will manage to grow.

This module will look at both in some detail and explain how to do then both in practice.

Time keeping

Being profitable depends on completing work at a good speed. Every hour we have to pay more out for labour. Every hour we are not on another job we lose the potential earnings from that job. All jobs are quoted with a predicted amount of time for each task and each job. After we go over this time the business loses money for every hour. If we beat the quoted time this
 
Time keeping is about stopping this happening and trying to beat the time where we can. There are a few key things to cover which will help with time management.
 

Man hours

The amount of time something takes is worked out in man hours. Man hours means the number of hours with 1 man. So if something takes 6 man hours, this means it should take 1 person 6 hours and 2 people 3 hours.

 

 

pie eating contest

 

When you know how long things should take you can to two things: 1) set targets, 2)measure progress. 

Setting people targets can be in important way to motivate then to work faster and smarter. Its easy just to plod along doing something slowly and inefficiently when we don’t know how fast it should be done. Some pressure can make us think about how to do the job faster or can be the kick we need to work a bit harder. 

Time targets should be used when you think you can get more out of people. They are one tool to use with both pros and cons. 

Measuring progress and comparing this to the designated time is essential to keep a job moving forwards. When you know how long a section of work is supposed to take its a good idea to check in every hour or so to see if progress is matching the expected pace.

Its no good checking at the end when nothing can be done about it. If things are moving too slowly, ask why and what can be done about it. Is there something slowing them down? are they just dragging their feet? is the time just too ambitious? 

Time calculator

To work out the amount of time that each task should take you can use this man hours calculator. It may be a good idea to put in on your home screen so you have quick access to it. 

 

The time calculator is based on measurements taken from straight forward jobs after any prior preparation such as digging out has been done. 

Example: An area of paving will take 10 hours to lay. The area is currently covered in concrete and rubble which needs to be removed. Removing the concrete and rubble counts and “hard preparation” and would have its own man hours allowance depending on the size of area. 

The paving man hours would only start when the rubble has been removed. The first task of paving would be levelling off the area. 

The breakdown of tasks would look something like this: 

Area = 4.6 square meters

Rubble removal = 3.45 man hours 

Laying paving = 9.89 man hours

Estimations

Unpredictable tasks

Unexpected tasks

What to do when things are moving too slowly

quality control

Module 3: Bigger picture understanding

Understanding the bigger picture is essential before you can make a decent plan or make the best decisions. 

The bigger picture is made up of both specified things which will not change and assumptions/ adaptations made by the site manager. This is because specifying every detail would be hard and may not be very productive as there could be unforeseen changes. Your job when in charge of a site is to come up with the optimal solution which will both make the customer as happy as possible and minimise the time and money spent by us to achieve this result. 

This will require you to fill in some blanks both in the initial planning phase and as the job progresses. Considering a few solutions and then choosing the best one will be essential to make good decisions. 

Assessment criteria

    1. Understanding the circumstances: What is the current situation? This includes customers guidelines, requests and even temperament. What is the site like? How many people do you have? Are there any potential issues? 
    2. Understanding of desired end result: What is supposed to happen, when and how? This includes both what has been specified and things you can assume based on other knowledge such as common standards and hints the customer has given off. 

Bigger picture Example 

A customer specified they want a raised flower bed around the edges of the garden to plant some small shrubs. They are happy with using sleepers for the construction but that’s all the information they give you. This leaves some questions unanswered: 

  1. How wide do they want it? 
  2. How high do they want it? 
  3. How full do they want it with soil? 

There is no one size fits all answer to this question which is where the bigger picture understanding comes in. So what do we need to consider? Here are a few things in no particular order. 

  • The customer
    • How picky are they? Picky customers may need to be consulted on the smallest decisions. Less picky ones will probably be happy as long as it looks decent. 
    • How much are they paying? We don’t work for cheap customers but sometimes customers will specify they just want the basics and price is their primary consideration. For others they may be willing to pay more for something that looks better or is a higher quality. 
  • How will it look? 
    • Think about how something will look, will a really wide or narrow flower bed look out of place? 
    • What if it is too high or too low compared to other features in the garden, this could make it look strange. When deciding based purely on looks it is best to ask a few people to see what they think as everyone has different tastes. If you are stuck and its important, giving the customer the final say is the only safe bet. 
  • Practical considerations
    • Strength: If we build it high, will it be strong enough, will this cost extra, how long will it take? If they want large plants will it take them. 
    • What is surrounding the flower bed? Will it be more cost effective to have a smaller flower bed and make whatever is next to it bigger? If it is next to turf the answer is yes, if it is next to artificial grass the answer is probably no. 
    • Is the area waterlogged? This could affect the lifespan of the wood which could come back to bite us in years to come. You could inform the customer and offer some solutions such as treatment or installing drainage. 
    • Time is money. How long do different options take? 

As you can see there are many things to consider for even small elements of each job. But don’t worry, these things will become instinctive as you practice them. Much of it will be intuition you have already developed which just need to be used. 

Exercise

Get hold of a plan for a site and work through a few elements of the plan considering everything mentioned above. Knowing all the facts makes decisions easier and better.