Washington Lean Consortium Reports End-of Year Results

Members of the Washington Lean Consortium reported significant improvements when they met for final reports at Skagit Farmers Supply in Burlington June 7.

Leaders from Botanical Designs, Skagit Farmers Supply Agronomy Division, Skagit Horticulture, and T&L Nursery worked together for one year to apply Lean in each others’ organizations. Reports from the year showed gains that exceeded expectations:

  • 67% productivity increase on a sedum trimming process at Skagit Horticulture, with 75 percent reduction in people travel.
  • 408% productivity gain for racking plants for installation jobs with Botanical Designs. The company cut lead time 81 percent, reduced people travel 75 percent, and eliminated $4,500 worth of unneeded inventory.
  • Reduced setup time by 67 percent at Skagit Horticulture’s Riverbend site, with a 26 percent shorter lead time and 23 percent smaller crew size for transplanting product. This team improved overall productivity 25 percent on the process.
  • Cut 5.25 seconds per plant at T & L Nursery in the process of pulling, cleaning, labeling and moving product to shipping racks.
  • 98% shorter lead time for truck loading at Botanical Designs’ Holiday Warehouse. By developing standard work, the process now deploys less than half the number of people and virtually eliminates errors.
  • Improved productivity 129 percent on a trimming process at T&L Nursery, reducing lead time by 58 percent.
  • 43% fewer process steps for managing inventory at Skagit Farmers Supply Agronomy North facility, with less paperwork, fewer errors, and better communication between departments.

“The Washington Lean Consortium quickly became a tight group,” said Corey Hill, Operations Manager for Skagit Horticulture. “Inspiration came from cooperation between the companies. When you host your customers, suppliers—and even competition—it locks you into thinking Lean and holds you accountable. It’s awesome to be a part of their improvements, too.”

Lean is a proven method for eliminating waste. It 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 brings a strong message of long-term commitment to employee development and continuous improvement.

“Lean has been an incredible tool for us to evaluate and improve our effectiveness,” said Natasha Blanchette, Botanical Designs Production Manager.

Visit www.petersco.net for more information. Companies interested in deploying lean should contact Elizabeth Peters, 503-250-2235 or epeters@petersco.net.

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How Companies Can Work Together to Solve Problems and Become More Efficient

First printed in Greenhouse Grower magazine.

Horticulture businesses across the U.S. are deploying Lean, 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.

A handful of Oregon and Washington companies, however, are taking this even further by forming consortiums to sustain Lean over the long-term.

How Does a Lean Consortium Work?

A Lean consortium is a small group of companies that work together to learn Lean principles and methods, and then apply them to processes in each other’s businesses. Each company engages three people who are trained and serve on improvement events at different facilities throughout the year.

These kaizen events (highly focused, rapid improvement activities) involve direct, hands-on changes at the hosting company with a professional facilitator. The team makes rapid changes to immediately gain improvements.

The Oregon Lean Consortium Has a Bias for Action

The Oregon Lean Consortium members are Smith Gardens (Aurora), Marion Ag Service, Robinson Nursery, Eshraghi Nursery, JLPN Liners, and Weyerhaeuser. When this group met last spring at Smith Gardens to look at staging for the shipping process, it improved productivity by 122%, cut operator travel by 97%, and reduced the crew size by nearly 30%.

The Oregon consortium opened up to suppliers last year. The group assisted Marion Ag Service, one of the region’s major fertilizer providers, as it created new standard work for fulfilling sales orders. The event team cut process steps by more than half, reduced rework by 92%, and improved the value-added ratio by 112%.

“Rarely do you have the opportunity to open up a process to new ideas, fresh eyes, and unique perspectives,” says John Hockett, Marion Ag Service Head of Sales. “The Lean Consortium provides us with the environment to rethink and improve our processes with our customers’ input.”

Corey Hill, Head Grower at Skagit Horticulture’s Mount Vernon, WA, operation, served with the Oregon consortium one day last spring at Robinson Nursery to advocate for starting a consortium in Washington’s Puget Sound region.

“Bias for action was off the charts,” says Hill. “When an idea was hatched, someone was trying out the concept within minutes.”

The Washington Lean Consortium Doubles Productivity

The Washington Lean Consortium was launched last July with Skagit Horticulture, T&L Nursery, Botanical Designs, and Skagit Farmers Supply. The dynamic new team has already held five events showing significant gains across a range of business processes.

Its first event focused on a sedum harvesting process at one of Skagit Horticulture’s Mount Vernon sites. One team doubled productivity and another improved by 40%. A third team increased units per worker hour by 67% and cut people travel by 3,000 feet.

The Washington consortium’s most recent event focused on a truck loading process for Botanical Designs, a high-end commercial interior and exterior landscaping company in Seattle. The team eliminated the need for staging, combined pulling and loading (plus reduced that time by 63%), and set up a process to discontinue misses and errors, catching any problems right at the source. The lead-time to load a truck was reduced by 98%.

“Lean has been an incredible tool for us to evaluate and improve our efficiency,” says Natasha Blanchette, Botanical Designs Production Manager. “The consortium is wonderful; we appreciate the interaction and feedback from others.”

Lean Highlighted in Nursery and Greenhouse Business Publication

Digger magazine showcased more than a dozen nursery and greenhouse industry professionals for their process improvement ideas. The May, 2018 issue delivers an array of ways horticulture companies have gained efficiency by improving four areas: management, workflows, inputs and workspaces.

Digger also sought The Peters Company’s perspective on Lean’s impact to nursery and greenhouse businesses. “Lean is about going to war — a war on waste,” Rick Peters said. “All forms of waste cause excess use of resources, including labor, capital, time and creativity. With today’s labor shortages and increasing costs, remaining neutral on waste is no longer a viable option. Choosing to opt out of the war is akin to slowly raising the white flag to your competition. Why? Because your competition is waging war…not on you, but on their own waste.”

Download the article here, or read it online at diggermagazine.com.

Incorporating Lean into Your Business

When asked to describe “Lean,” many professionals cite cost reduction, labor savings, or “Isn’t that a manufacturing thing?” With consolidation, workforce reductions and the shrinking labor pool, it’s no wonder many see Lean as just another way to save money.

Viewing Lean as a cost-cutting effort alone understates the real power of Lean. Worse, if company leaders attempt to apply Lean with a one-time “fix it” mentality and let workers go as a result of improved processes, they’ll destroy the initiative. Why would your team members help you lay off their associates?

Lean’s power is in its strategy for engaging your people to continuously improve. When deployed effectively, your organization will gain advantage over the competition because you keep getting better every day.

This article in American Nurseryman magazine describes how standard work and visual controls help organizations keep the improvement momentum going.

It’s not just “Lean Manufacturing”

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. While the principles are more broadly recognized in manufacturing, Lean applies to all types of organizations. It’s a business strategy based on respect for people and the continuous improvement of all processes in an organization.

Lean seeks the “least waste way” to perform tasks. It’s a never-ending quest. Today’s advances become the baseline for future improvements. As people learn to see and eliminate as much waste as possible, they discover still better ways of performing the work, and the cycle repeats.

Most leaders have heard about the dramatic results of Lean. It is common to see productivity improvements in triple-digit percent gains the first time the principles are effectively deployed in any area. The real benefit, however, is in developing standards that keep your team improving over the long term.

Keeping Lean going

The principles of Lean are simple, but difficult to sustain. While initial activities show results, many companies struggle with keeping improvement gains without a plan and support for continued application. Leaders often miss the human factor of implementing change.

So, how do you keep processes from backsliding to the old way of doing things? Develop standard work – the “standard” way in which a job is expected to be done.

Standard work includes a description of the work, the sequence of tasks involved, any equipment or tools needed, and the time required to complete each task. It should be posted at each operator’s location.

The process of developing standard work usually delivers productivity gains. This fall, the Peters Company mapped out the order fulfillment process for three different organizations and doubled sales capacity by eliminating unneeded steps. Andres Alamillo, Continuous Improvement Manager with Smith Gardens, said, “In our selecting process with pack items we were able to improve our units per worker hour by 55 percent just by developing standard work.”

Continued improvements are not possible without standard work. Quality and productivity vary based on the knowledge and capability of the person doing the work. This reliance upon human experience is called “tribal knowledge.” It is an environment where only certain individuals have the ability to do a job well, and understanding of how to do a job is passed on from person-to-person.

Tribal knowledge can be destructive. This type of work environment not only creates the opportunity for power plays and control situations, but also limits the ability of the company to staff and schedule consistently. If there are functions in your company where the ability to do a job relies on a small group of people – or worse, a single skilled and experienced person – you need to develop standard work.

Standard work needs a visual workplace

Lean companies work to create a visual workplace. This is an environment where anyone can walk into an area and understand what’s going on with the process, if the work is on schedule or not, and if there are any abnormalities. A visual workplace makes it easy for people to follow standard work.

Examples are area signs and walkway markers, checklists, safety alerts and status boards. Color-coding is effective and often used; red-yellow-green commonly reflects bad-alert-good.

Visual controls are commonly used in our world today. Imagine a parking lot with no stripes, roads with no lanes or signs – or a grocery store with no labels or pictures! Examples of effective visual controls are everywhere, yet many organizations still rely on tribal knowledge to accomplish much of the work.

Language differences make creating standard work more challenging, but should never become an excuse for not doing so. These language “gaps” can be mitigated by the use of good visual controls, translated documentation, and ongoing training and support from leadership.

See these principles in action:

Continuous improvement requires leadership

It takes strong leadership with vision and tenacity to make significant, ongoing improvements in an organization. Some resist change because it’s uncomfortable – it’s human nature. Organizations that short-circuit the process of creating standard work will find improvements are lost over time due to a tendency to drift backward to a prior, more wasteful state. To minimize the impact of change, give ownership and promote buy-in, always involve those doing the job in developing their own standard work.

With the aging of our working population, labor is less available, and competition for skilled labor is greater than ever. Companies that want to stay in business over the long term are building up their workforce to support continuous improvement.

Oregon Lean Group Boosts Value for Marion Ag Service and its Customers

The Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium helped one of its new members reduce process steps by 55 percent on an order fulfillment process. The improvement was made during Marion Ag’s first hosted improvement event with the Consortium, held at the company’s new fertilizer processing facility in Aurora, Ore.

The team focused on the process of fulfilling a customer’s order, targeting the extra time and steps involved. Company leaders had a goal of reducing non-value-added activity by 25 percent. The improvement team exceeded these expectations, cutting steps by more than half and increasing the value-added ratio by 112 percent.

“Rarely do you have the opportunity to open up a process to new ideas, fresh eyes, and unique perspectives,” said John Hockett, Marion Ag Service Head of Sales. “The Lean Consortium provides us the environment to rethink and improve our processes with our customers’ input.”

Members of the Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium have committed to learning and applying Lean principles together for one year. Top practitioners in each company meet for rapid improvement sessions at a hosting site each month.

The event at Marion Ag Service was also the consortium’s first application of process mapping this year—a visual technique for exposing waste. Process maps are excellent tools for helping participants understand each other’s tasks and the impacts each has in the overall flow of an organization. They are often used for business processes where time observations are difficult to capture and where many hand-offs in information, signatures or approvals occur.

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 double- or triple-digit productivity improvements the first time Lean is effectively deployed in an area.

Seven companies are involved in the Oregon consortium this year: Eshraghi Nurseries, JLPN, Marion Ag Service, PRT Oregon, Robinson Nursery, Smith Gardens Aurora, and Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas. A second Lean consortium was launched recently in the Puget Sound region. Companies interested in participating can contact Elizabeth Peters, 503-250-2235 or epeters@petersco.net for information and an application form. To learn more about what a lean consortium is, visit www.petersco.net/consortium.

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.

Lean Improves Efficiency of Yamhill County Elections

With today’s heated political environment across the country, voters in Yamhill County, Oregon will be pleased to learn of significant improvements made recently to streamline and bolster the integrity of the elections process.

A team of Election Workers – led by County Clerk Brian Van Bergen – applied Lean principles to the process of gathering, verifying, and counting ballots. The team reduced process steps by 26 percent and decreased the number of times a ballot is handled by 66 percent. Most importantly, the team established new processes that will continue to provide accurate results.

The new process was tested during this month’s Special District Election. “We have made significant cost improvements,” said Van Bergen, “and the new process is a much quicker approach while doing a more accurate and secure job for our citizens,” he said. The Yamhill County Clerk’s Office in McMinnville, Oregon is responsible for processing ballots at election time. Election Board Workers, working in pairs (each from different political parties), are required to wait until seven days before an election to open any ballots. On Election Day, teams must remain at the office until all ballots are processed, usually making for a long night for everyone. Tight security and complete transparency are maintained at all times.

Van Bergen has improved the process since taking office in January, 2013. This new application of Lean principles, however, put improvements into overdrive. With the old process, circuitous traffic flow and large batches led to longer processing times. Because the team was handling large batches and reorganizing and sorting multiple times, available space was crowded.

In March, the team enlisted The Peters Company, local specialists who help organizations apply Lean principles to their processes. In a facilitated two-day workshop, the team carefully examined and improved the process of gathering, verifying, and counting ballots. When the complete process was mapped out, they counted 192 non-value-added steps. Team members had been walking more than 503 feet per batch (nearly 7 feet per ballot). Ballots could be handled as many as thirty-five times.

By the second day of the workshop, the team had listed 11 opportunities to remove waste from the process. They mapped out a future state that decreased the number of process steps, reduced the number of times a ballot is handled, and reduced redundant documents. Batch sizes were reduced from 100 to 50.

The team created standard work and held an orientation session to bring everyone on board with the new approach. They created a new workflow that reduces the waste of motion, and right-sized boxes used for transporting the smaller batch-sizes of ballots. The new standard work is posted at every workstation.

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson visited the county office on Election Day to see the new streamlined process in person. “The citizens of Yamhill County should thank this team for making sure that every dollar in the elections process is spent in an efficient manner,” he said. “This type of innovative thinking will maximize staff expertise and avoid unnecessary duplication, while increasing accuracy and security.”

“The Yamhill County Elections team really came through for voters,” said Rick Peters, workshop facilitator. “By reducing unneeded steps, batch sizes, and handling, they have significantly reduced opportunities for errors and made a more secure process for citizens. This could be a model for other Oregon counties looking to save costs and bolster confidence in the elections process.”

To learn more about Lean and view this case study with photos, visit www.petersco.net. For more information, contact Elizabeth Peters, epeters@petersco.net / 503-250-2235.

How Oregon Growers Are Making Lean Improvements With Help From Their Peers

The Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium recently helped two Pacific Northwest growers realize significant productivity gains through a series of “rapid improvement activity” events, reported Greenhouse Grower magazine.

“Implementing Lean practices at JLPN has become an entirely new skill set — just as crucial as the skills required to grow tree liners — that creates value for our customers,” says John Lewis, JLPN President. “The Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium has been our educational driving force, helping us create higher quality product while eliminating waste in our processes.”

Read the full story here.

Triple-Digit Gains at Consortium’s First Event of 2017

The Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium helped one of its cohorts realize a 182 percent productivity gain at its first rapid improvement activity for 2017. The event was held in February at JLPN Inc., a deciduous ornamental tree liner grower in Salem, Oregon.

Three teams focused on a grading process, targeting the extra time and steps involved in the process. Company leaders determined to double productivity. The teams far exceeded these expectations, reducing the crew size by nearly 20 percent and increasing units per worker hour from 162 to 466 on one seedling variety.

“Implementing Lean practices at JLPN has become an entirely new skill set—just as crucial as the skills required to grow tree liners—that creates value for our customers,” said John Lewis, JLPN President. “The Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium has been our educational driving force, helping us create higher quality product while eliminating waste in our processes.”

Members of the Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium have committed to learning and applying the principles of lean together for one year. Top practitioners in each company meet for one-day rapid improvement sessions at a hosting nursery each month.

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 from 40 – 70 percent the first time Lean principles are effectively deployed in an area.

Seven companies are involved in the consortium this year: Eshraghi Nurseries, JLPN, Marion Ag Service, PRT Oregon, Robinson Nursery, Smith Gardens Aurora, and Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas. Companies interested in participating can contact Elizabeth Peters, 503-250-2235 or epeters@petersco.net for information and an application form.

Peters Company Leaders Honored by Horticulture Industry Association

Rick and Elizabeth Peters were honored with the “Distinguished Member of the Horticultural Allied Trades” award by the Oregon Association of Nurseries at their Annual Convention November 5, 2016 in Sunriver.

The award recognizes an allied trade member who has shown exemplary support for the OAN, the industry and its members. It was presented to the Peters by Chris Robinson, Manager at Robinson Nursery.

“These two individuals are incredible,” said Robinson. “Their company’s success depends on the success of the clients they work with. They care greatly for these companies and it shows. The results that they have achieved collectively have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars for their clients.”

“I’ve had the great pleasure to work with The Peters Company over the past several years. I am grateful for their earnest dedication to the success of those they partner with.”

“The industry needs companies like this, especially in a time when labor is short with few options. Rick and Elizabeth have an unwavering work ethic and work diligently to not just get bottom line results, but to engage and inspire the people they work with. They believe that the best appreciating assets in a company are the people. They truly live this model and help to equip individuals with skills and tools to be successful.”

Rick and Elizabeth founded the Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium. The program helps nurseries deal with the increasing cost and decreasing availability of labor. It brings together improvement leaders from multiple companies to learn and apply Lean principles, thereby reducing waste and delivering more value to customers at a lower cost.