A while back, I wrote Knowing Your Numbers-How To Measure Your Success, an article on the importance of developing your own set of metrics and benchmarks to accurately measure your success, or failure, which is something we all need to understand. In this Premium Membership post I expand on that theme; specifically how to use land surveying metrics for success.
To have a successful and profitable professional land surveyor business, like any other business, requires mastery of your business and operational practices by everyone from owner, manager, to employees working on the front lines, like your surveyors and crews working in the field.
As I wrote before, whatever it is you're trying to succeed at, you need to measure some aspect of that goal to track your progress, determine what is working, what is not working, and to know when you've fully accomplished what you set out to do.
If you don't measure, track and evaluate; then you can't apply Business Intelligence, can't find solutions and can't fix problems-it's that simple.
Land Surveying Field Metrics for Success-Why, What & How to Measure
So, let's look at the why, what, and how to measure land surveying field metrics for success, starting with why? The reason you want to track any metrics in your land surveying business, field surveying metrics included, is for what I call Business Intelligence. Business Intelligence, as I define it, includes:
- Historical Truth -Understanding what has really happened in the past.
- Trend Outliers -Tracking current business events against past metrics to identify performance outliers.
- Modelling Decision-Making -Using your analysed metrics to model decision-making within your organization.
Applying the above to land surveying field metrics, you want to accurately (truth) measure and gather metrics on what's happening in the field to build a foundation on which you can then apply Business Intelligence to the very core of your business. As field work probably consumes a large part of any land surveying practice's overhead, with inefficiencies here almost certainly leading to failure, why wouldn't you want to know what's truly going on? At the end of this post I'll describe what's too commonplace with surveyors in not fully understanding what it takes, or took, to get any survey completed, how this dooms them to failure, and how you can instead use the metrics you've gathered and analyzed to better insure your success.
What Field Metrics to Collect?
You need to collect Field Metrics that are important to your land surveying business and is specific to the surveying work that you perform. There may be other factors involved, too, like geographic and environmental factors. For instance, most of my surveys are in wooded areas with a lot of underbrush that requires a lot of line cutting to setup traverses, but in your area it may be wide open so traverse setup may be very limited or nearly non-existing. You, therefore, might not track line cutting/traverse setup at all, whereas I need to do so.
To decide what to track, it's often helpful to sit down and make a list (or mind map) outlining the processes involved in completing the types of surveying work that you do. Make a breakdown of distinct work elements that are important to track. Then, determine what is the best metric to track for those work elements. As you work through this process, you might discover that the metric you thought was important and controlling may not be the best metric to gather. Choosing between area, lineal feet, shots taken, traverses turned, or some other metric; more than a few land surveyors that I've consulted with and advised on this subject have often picked the wrong metric to track. The more you understand your processes and the work that you do, the better you'll be at evaluating meaningful metrics to track.
Here's a short list of the Field Metrics I track in addition to hours:
- Reconnaissance -I track lineal feet of property line. Metrics to track for recon can be done using acreage or by called-for record monuments, in addition to lineal feet. The matter of the fact is that it can take a long time not to find something. If, after taking that time you find what you're looking for, then you're a hero, and if you don't find it then you're a bum for taking too long on the project! This is where averaging all your projects will help to even out the outliers, or help to determine if a performance outlier is something more than a justified project specific issue. For me, tracking recon metrics in lineal feet of property line wouldn't seem correct, because the boundary surveys I work on range from larger rural tracts to small city lot surveys. However, what I've found over the years is that Lineal feet works for both. While there's less area covered in a city lot survey, there's usually more "property line" involved when you add up the individual lots and street line you're surveying. If there truly is a difference in any task due to issues like this, then also track an additional variable, like type/location of survey. Then you could have a metric for larger rural surveys verses smaller urban surveys, for example. I have done this in the past.
- Traverse Setup -I track lineal feet of property line. Most of the parcels I survey are very irregular in shape. I know many surveyors that use an acreage metric, but this often leads to apple versus orange comparisons. This is particularly important when you bidding on a survey. Recently, for example, I looked at a survey for parcel that I was told was approximately 12-acres. A square 12-acre parcel would have approximately 2,900 feet of perimeter. In looking at the Tax Map and deed, it turned out that this parcel was approximately 150-feet wide and 3,500-feet deep. That's nearly 7,300 feet of perimeter, or 2.5-times more perimeter than if you assumed a square parcel. Trust me, it will actually take 2.5-times more to do than what I know the low-bidder quoted based on a straight acreage calculation.
- Traverse and Location - I track lineal feet of property line, number of traverse and doubled locations, and the number single-shot locations. This can also be project "type" dependent. Obviously, topographic surveys can be vastly different than boundary surveys in the amount of data that's collected. For GPS work, I track number of points located (I mostly use GPS for control work).
- Setting Points - I track lineal feet of property line and number of points set for boundary surveys. For construction layout I track lineal feet of roadway (or similar feature) and number of points set, which lends itself to future analysis to compare to how much construction layout can be done per hour.
How to Measure and Track Field Metrics:
First, I'm assuming that you do track time on all of your projects. If you don't, then start doing that. Untracked project time is the first and biggest lie I see. Yes, on paper, the project looks profitable when you don't factor in all of the project time that was not tracked. In all honesty, this is often an issue at the upper management and ownership level. No, you're not too busy to complete a time sheet and accurately account for your time, even if you're the boss! Stop the lies and face the music by accurately and completely tracking time (project or otherwise).
Second, let everyone know what the metrics you are tracking and why. The time sheet is probably the best way to gather the data for the carried out work. It's very simple to place a spot on a time sheet to add in "1200' line cut", or " Recon 750'", or "8 Trav, 10 DBL's + 250 SS". Other metric data, like the original perimeter or area of a parcel being surveyed, will likely come from a prepared proposal and then moved into some project filing system.
The key is to make the data gathering process a regular habit and as easy to to as possible. In it's most simple form, you would track basic project base data, like area or lineal feet of property line, and then take the time and metrics from the time sheets to come up with your project specific Metrics Ratios, such as Recon Lineal Feet per hour, Traverse Setup Lineal Feet per day, Traverse and Double Locations per day, etc. Then you would add this data into a Master Metrics List, averaging all of your projects metrics to take out any individual bumps, kinks and outliers found in specific projects. I'll expand on this in detail in future posts.
You may already have project management software
How Does This Work?
In the next article on Field Metrics, I'll share a few observations and real-life experiences I've had in using metrics as a business tool over the last 26 years. In the meantime, think about the metrics you use, or ones you could use, and leave a comment as to what has worked for you, or what you think could work.