Nurseries Work Together to Solve Labor Challenges and Reduce Waste

Rising labor costs. A shrinking labor pool. Competition for skilled workers. Businesses across the U.S. are deploying Lean to deal with these critical issues. Some West Coast companies are taking this further by developing Lean leaders together.

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. Deployed effectively, Lean not only reduces waste but increases employee engagement—a critical factor in retaining workers.

The Lean Leader Course involves a small group of people who learn principles and methods, and then apply them to processes in each other’s businesses. Students complete online and in-class training, then serve on improvement events at different sites throughout the year.

These “kaizen events” involve direct, hands-on changes at the hosting company with a professional facilitator. The team makes rapid changes to immediately gain improvements and reinforce learning.

During the group’s first event in 2022, Bailey Nurseries’ Yamhill Propagation site hosted a kaizen event to reduce waste and develop standard work for liner pulling and processing. 

Three teams right-sized the crew, standardized setup time, developed standard work and reduced product touches. More important, the event team engaged the crew in improving the flow of the overall operation. 

The process now requires four fewer crew members to accomplish the same amount of work. Lead time was reduced by nearly 20 percent.

“The Peters and Lean Leader Course members helped us identify the waste and eliminate unnecessary steps,” said Scott Cowan, West Coast Container Manager with Bailey Nurseries. “This has resulted in streamlined processes and the ability to better utilize our production labor.”

Some results from last year’s Lean Leader Course:

  • Reduced product touches by 60 percent, cut searching time by 57 percent and improving productivity by more than 30 percent in a shipping operation at Bailey Nurseries’ Dayton operation.
  • Increased productivity by 53 percent by eliminating searching time and standardizing work for pulling product at JLPN of Salem.
  • Cut product touches in half and increased productivity by 52 percent in a container planting operation at Robinson Nursery of McMinnville.

Lean Leader Course enrollment for 2023 is open to new students starting in November. To learn more, contact Elizabeth Peters at 


The Peters Company helps horticulture companies make dramatic improvements to productivity, safety, quality, teamwork and cost by applying Lean. They can be reached at or 503-250-2235, or visit