Lean Consortium Launched by Washington Horticulture Businesses

A new consortium has begun among horticulture-industry companies in Washington state to deploy Lean in each others’ businesses.

The group, primarily consisting of companies in the Puget Sound region, has committed to learning and applying the principles of Lean together for one year. Top practitioners from each business will meet for one-day or two-day sessions at a hosting nursery approximately every month. Each session involves training on an improvement principle or tool, followed by immediate application to the hosting business with professional facilitation.

Lean is a proven method for eliminating waste that results in more value to customers delivered at a lower cost, in a shorter time, with fewer defects and less human effort. Initial results are often dramatic. It is common to see productivity improvements in triple-digit percent gains the first time Lean is effectively deployed in an area.

The idea for a Washington Lean consortium came from Oregon, where nurseries have been working together on improvements in this fashion for years. The Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium, consisting of both growers and suppliers, consistently delivers double- and triple-digit productivity gains for its members each month. The group is managed by The Peters Company, West Coast Lean consultants who launched the unique concept seven years ago.

Skagit Horticulture, based in Mt. Vernon was the first to seek out an industry consortium to propel its recent aggressive deployment of Lean. “Lean has had a big impact on our company,” said Mollie Hoare, Operations Manager. “Not only have we seen significant productivity gains, but our employee engagement is much stronger than ever before. Participating with the consortium gives our top Lean performers the challenge and reward of working with their peers in different facets of the industry.”

“The challenge of Lean is sustaining the gains over the long term,” said consortium instructor Rick Peters. “Many resist change because it’s uncomfortable—it’s human nature. We will spend a lot of time this year working to develop and help leaders drive a culture of continuous improvement, which is key to making this work. It takes strong leadership and tenacity to make significant, ongoing improvements in an organization.”

Redmond, Wash. based T&L Nursery has joined the consortium to drive their competitive advantage as an employer. “Our challenge for many years will be to keep up with seemingly ever rising wage pressure from the booming city of Seattle,” said Andrej Suske, General Manager. “Only through developing a strong culture throughout all teams and processes of the company will we be able to raise productivity and therefore wages, allowing us to be successful continuously.”

Four businesses are currently in the consortium: Skagit Horticulture, T&L Nursery, Botanical Designs, and Skagit Farmers Supply. Those interested in participating can contact Elizabeth Peters, 503-250-2235 or epeters@petersco.net for information and an application form.