Lance Sweeney – How I Work

Lance Sweeney is our first guest on our How I Work series. This series explores how leading figures from (our industry) landscape architecture, irrigation, landscape contractors, manufacturing and writing accomplish their work. It is our hope you can learn something from them to make yourself more productive and accelerate your water conservation efforts.

Lance is the President of Sweeney & Associates, Inc and has over 35 years experience in design, installation and maintenance. He is a strong proponent for water conservation and has been a certified irrigation auditor since 1991, a long time before it was cool to support water conservation. Lance has managed projects in the United States, China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He is truly a person who takes pride in doing a job “right” and has a reputation of high quality in the industry. Sweeney & Associates, Inc. is a full service consulting firm specializing in landscape and golf course irrigation design.

Let’s see what we can learn from Lance.

Lance what’s your typical work schedule?

Monday – Friday: 7:00 AM – 6:00 PM

Saturdays and Sundays: Do you completely check out or do you work a little, check emails – how do you manage this time?

I wish! I often work one day over the weekend, usually at least once a month. Depending on the workload and proposal requests, this might be more often. The best thing, if there is a best thing, about working a weekend day is that the phone does not ring! You can fully concentrate on the tasks at hand. I find that I am almost twice as productive on one of these days than a normal weekday. Even if I am not working in the office, I always keep my eye on the incoming e-mails. Often my clients are working weekends and sending out information. They appreciate a response over the weekend rather than waiting until Monday to hear from me.

If I can answer an e-mail immediately, I always do. I also find that accomplishing small, easy requests immediately, helps keep my schedule clear. If the e-mail requires some thought or additional effort to answer, I will save it for later, but I usually respond with a quick update for the sender.


What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without?

Besides the obvious AutoCAD software, I have really become dependent on Bluebeam. I use it to quickly markup drawings for client questions, to direct my design staff and I use it to do all my materials submittal reviews. Excel, how did any work get done before this software? I am an avid spreadsheet creator. I have spreadsheets for bidding work, tracking projects, water use estimates, pressure calculations, drip tubing estimates, Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (WELO) calculations, you name it I can make a spreadsheet for it.

Google Earth is a tremendous tool. Often when bidding a project the best information on what is on site can come from Google Earth. I used it just the other day to located sprinkler heads in a large turf field. The “doughnuts” around the heads made their locations very clear. I have used the street scene feature to “walk” miles of medians and identify water points of connection and controller locations.


How do you stay up on what’s happening in irrigation?

Through a combination of talking to manufacturer’s representatives, reviewing catalog and website data, and attending industry gatherings. The American Society of Irrigation Consultants (ASIC) has great technical sessions. I try and attend a couple of trade shows a year as well. Many manufacturer’s now send out new product releases through e-mails. This is a great way to get our attention and we can follow up with them about specifics. You really need to make the effort to be on top of this changing industry. The technology available today in control systems is mind-boggling.

The California Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (WELO) is taking up a lot of our research time right now. The state put out the “Model” ordinance, but while many local agencies use the states model, many agencies have tweaked the ordinance to fit their specific requirements. This means that there are hundreds and even thousands of potential variations on the WELO! I have had calculations rejected over simple nomenclature describing things in a calculation. You really need to contact every agency prior to starting work to get their latest information! Many of them keep this information on a website, but some still require a telephone call.


How much time to you spend managing projects and people vs. spending time designing?

Right now I would say that I spend 10% of my time managing people, 40% of my time managing projects, 20% of my time designing and the remaining 30% of time divided up between writing proposals, marketing, billing and other tasks. I am really trying to reduce my time “on the boards” as I feel I can be more useful to the firm concentrating on other things.


How do you get new customers?

That’s a secret! I can say that we have earned a very good reputation in the industry and word of mouth between our clients has been a major part of new customer development.


Work area set-up?

My desk is always cluttered. I am constantly scratching out sketches and calculations on paper and making lists. About once a month I do a total desk clearing and start from scratch. We started using dual monitors a couple of years ago and that has proven to be a huge benefit to our work. It is so nice to be able to have AutoCAD on one screen and a PDF, spreadsheet or other program open at the same time on the other monitor. I try and have everything I need at my work area. I have a small printer on my desk to reduce time running over to the large printer. I have a rack with manufacturer’s catalogs alongside my desk for easy reference. Wireless keyboard and mouse, essential! Some people in our office have desks set up so that they can stand and work. I am the opposite. I like a large comfortable chair that I can sit in for long hours as necessary. I have a lazy-boy office chair I bought 20 years ago and it is still amazing. Like a bed, you spend a lot of time in your workstation; don’t scrimp on an office chair!


Daniel L. ZumMallen V.P. and production manager of Sweeney & Associates, Inc. at a standing desk.

What kind of gears and tech do you use to work?

IBM Compatible Computers – We have a lot of young employees who are very computer literate. My son Tristan actually has been building high performance CAD machines for our workstations. Lots of RAM, high quality video cards, etc. My first computer 25 years ago had a 40MB hard drive, now we routinely get files many times that size as base files. You need to keep up with the technology. A four-year-old computer is slowing you down!

Samsung Galaxy s5  I love my smart phone! I use it for phone, e-mail, texting, photos, Internet searching, etc. I have been very happy with the size of the screen and the size of the package itself. Like most people, it is my constant companion.

HP Printers — We have many printers in our offices and most are HP brand. These things are bullet proof! I have a 25-year-old HP printer that is still working perfectly! It may not be a fast printer, but it sits at someone’s desk and keep churning out prints.

AutoCAD Subscription Service – We finally gave in and signed up for a subscription. It has proven to be a great decision. We are now always up to date on our software and never are in a situation that we need to have files “back saved” to work on them. We do not update to the latest subscription all one time though, a couple of the more AutoCAD proficient team members act as guinea pigs and install it first. Once we feel that the latest version does not cause any problems, we roll it out for everyone.

Laptop – I do take a laptop on long trips as I often find myself spending part of the work travel day working in my hotel room. I have written many a proposal while on the road and I will manage projects and do some design work on the road as well. My laptop is getting old and I will need an upgrade soon.


Computer apps I use to stay productive

Microsoft Word — Essential for any business correspondence.

Microsoft Excel – Amazing software as I mentioned.

Skype We use Skype to speak with our overseas team members. We use it for instant texting as well as video calls. I use it daily to share my screen to discuss design issues with our team. We have held conference calls with multiple staff on the same call. Really a wonderful service.

Outlook Calendar— I have everything on my calendar! All my appointments, reservations, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. I share my calendar with my team so they know where I am at and what I am doing. We use Outlook Calendar to schedule staff time on projects and keep track of time spent as well.

Dropbox, Hightail, etc. We transfer project files among ourselves and to clients using these services. Very helpful as project file size has grown.


What are you currently reading?

I just finished reading Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander Series for the second time. I am reading one of his earlier works “The Forgotten Shore” right now. I read a lot of historical novels, I am an avid Hemmingway reader, I like modern military books, and a read political commentary.


How do you recharge?

I really enjoy building and working on things. I do a lot of projects outside, planting trees, a garden, installing irrigation and small construction projects. I am a certified car nut. I enjoy driving and have a track car that I take out to various racetracks and drive. I attend car shows and race events. I love to travel, even for business, and try and plan a special trip every year.


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