Oregon Lean Group Gains National Attention

Wilsonville, OR – August 24, 2016

The Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium has captured a national spotlight this month with a cover feature in the June issue of Nursery Management magazine. The national publication provides top news and exclusive research, as well as technical and business management content to more than 16,000 wholesale growers throughout North America.

The feature walks through a day with the consortium, looking at how the team of leaders from different nurseries makes improvements to a process in a company. Consortium member Tom Fessler of Woodburn Nursery and Azaleas is pictured on the cover.

The Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium is a group of nurseries and greenhouse operations that work together to deploy Lean principles in their businesses. Members commit to learning and applying these principles – or the Toyota Production System – together for one year. Initial results are often dramatic, with productivity improvements in triple digit percent gains the first time Lean is effectively deployed in an area.

On April 1, the consortium met at Smith Gardens. Three teams sought the “least waste way” to select hanging baskets from different greenhouse environments. By day’s end, all three teams saw productivity gains (units per labor hour) by 104 to 261 percent.

The story also references an improvement activity hosted by McMinnville grower Robinson Nursery, where units per worker hour were increased by 49 percent on their #3 GRL planting process.

“These results are not uncommon,” said Nursery Manager Chris Robinson. “We have worked with The Peters Company on three separate Lean projects at our farm over the past five years,” said Robinson. “In one event we had a 37 percent improvement in processing and grading of our bare root nursery stock. At the same event, a team reduced bare root tree harvesting time by 87 percent.”

The story notes that working with a consortium provides peer support and accountability, as leaders work to develop an improvement culture in their businesses.

“The best part of the consortium is the ability to create trusted partnerships in the profession,” said Joe Wolf, project manager at Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas. “Everyone on the team is committed to an open-door policy, freely discussing process dynamics, and even financial, labor, and market constraints to that particular process. This allows us to all grow in depth as lead growers, producers, and leaders while maintaining accountability to the observations and recommendations made by the consortium.”

Five companies are currently involved in the consortium: Smith Gardens Aurora, Robinson Nursery, PRT Oregon of Hubbard, Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas, and JLPN of Salem. The group is facilitated by The Peters Company.

To learn more about Lean, participate with the Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium, or start a similar group in your area, contact The Peters Company at 503-250-2235 or epeters@petersco.net.

The Power of Process

Nursery Management magazine, June 2016.

The sun is not yet up, and a small group of professionals from nurseries and greenhouses in Oregon’s Willamette Valley have gathered before the work crew arrives, for an activity that will change the way a nursery does a business process…for the better.

A new consortium has been launched in which nurseries and greenhouse operations work together to deploy Lean in their businesses.

Leaders with the Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium have committed to learning and applying the principles of Lean together for one year. Top practitioners from each company meet for one-day sessions at a hosting nursery. Each involves brief training, followed by immediate application and improvement to an area of the business.

Why Lean?

Lean is a proven method for eliminating waste in processes that results in more value to customers, delivered at a lower cost, in a shorter time, with fewer defects and less human effort. The principles of Lean come from the Toyota Production System and were developed over decades as the company worked its way out of the devastation resulting from the Second World War.

Lean practitioners seek the “least waste way” to perform tasks and processes. It is a never-ending quest. The improvements made today become the baseline for future improvements. As people learn to see and eliminate as much waste as possible from processes, they discover still better ways of performing the work, and the cycle repeats.

The target of Lean is waste. Waste is defined as activities that do not add value to the product or service delivered to the customer. There are seven wastes identified in the Toyota Production System:

  1. Transportation of raw materials, products, or information
  2. Inventory or build-up of materials, products, or information
  3. Motion of people
  4. Waiting for people, product, raw materials, or information
  5. Overproducing – making more than the customer requires
  6. Overprocessing – doing more to the product than the customer requires
  7. Defects,rework or scrap

“By looking at the seven wastes—and working to remove them—we are definitely more productive and we give more value to our customer today than ever before,” says Mark Montville, nursery manager at PRT Oregon. “By looking at value and waste from this perspective I see new opportunities to improve this business every day.”

The focus is on the process, not the people doing the work. Respect for people is foundational to the Toyota Production System, and staff are highly valued by the company and never considered waste. This process focus squarely places the responsibility for waste on leaders of the organization, who are expected to approach improvement with humility and respect for workers.

Results from applying Lean

Initial results of Lean application 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. Setup and changeover times are typically reduced by 50 percent or more.

The first consortium session this year was held at Smith Gardens in Aurora, Ore. Two teams focused on a planting process, targeting the time it takes to change from one product type to the next, and the time and steps starting up the line at the beginning of each day. Company leaders determined to cut these times in half. The teams exceeded these expectations within the day, reducing changeover time by 67 percent and startup time by 56 percent. The company will benefit from staff-time savings equivalent to $16,000 within six months.

Robinson Nursery, a wholesale grower in McMinnville, Ore., is a consortium participant that has benefitted from Lean principles. In Robinson’s most recent event, which focused on its #3 Grow Ready Liner planting, the company increased units per worker hour by 49 percent.

“These results are not uncommon,” says nursery manager Chris Robinson. “We’re convinced that Lean not only helps with productivity, but also improves how we do business overall. In one event we had a 37 percent improvement in processing and grading of our bareroot nursery stock. At the same event, a team reduced bareroot tree harvesting time by 87 percent. We have also seen a 40 percent productivity improvement on netting and processing of our Grow Ready Liner material.”

On April 1, the consortium focused on hanging baskets at Smith Gardens. Three teams sought the “least waste way” to select hanging baskets from different greenhouse environments. By day’s end, all three teams exceeded event goals in nearly all metrics tracked including: Productivity(units per labor hour) increased by 104 to 261 percent; crew sizes were reduced between 25 percent and 50 percent; crew members walked 35 to
90 percent less distance; and cost per unit dropped 50 to 79 percent.

Such gains don’t happen by accident. Many factors go into a successful improvement activity. It can take several days to capture and document important data and insights, and the company must follow through on changes made by the team.

Teams must understand “value.” This is viewed from the customer’s perspective and is created only when three criteria are met:

  1. The customer is willing to pay for the product or service, and
  2. The work transforms the product or service, and
  3. The work is done right the first time.

Any one or more of these criteria missing introduces waste, or “non-value added” activity.

In the hanging basket example mentioned earlier, crews had been handling product eight times before plants were loaded on their final shipping racks, creating significant overprocessing and motion waste. From the customer’s perspective, the only value-added steps were attaching a tag and fertilizing the product. None of the sorting, batching, transporting, handling and re-handling added value.

Lean applied with a bias for action

Preparation for Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium events begins several weeks prior. Companies identify a specific process at their site for improvement. A one-page scope sheet is prepared, briefly describing the current situation and problems to be addressed during the event. Video gives participants coming from other sites an idea of the process and its associated waste.

Improvement objectives are set and team members with a “bias for action” are selected for the event. Each team includes experienced workers who normally do the job; this shows respect for those doing the work and promotes buy-in from the crew.

Once a target of opportunity is identified, pre-work begins. A number of tools such as stopwatches, spaghetti diagrams, time observation forms and sticky notes help pre-work teams document critical information. This is referred to as “documenting reality” because the goal is to record only what is happening in the process, not what is supposed to happen. When information is captured and recorded prior to an improvement activity, it is often called “documenting the current state.”

“Pre-work is key to a successful improvement event,” says Andres Alamillo, inventory manager and Lean team captain at Smith Gardens. “In order to visually understand the gains achieved from the Lean activity, one must understand what the process looked like before.” Alamillo stressed three factors that must be in place to effectively gather current state data.

“Meet as a team beforehand to understand what will be measured based on the type of waste in the process. Team members must be trained on how to perform time observations and to create spaghetti diagrams. Before measuring, let the people you will be observing know what you are doing and thank them for their time.”

Consortium participants are Lean practitioners with both experience and a bias for action. There are no bystanders; everyone participates.

Event Day

The day of the event, the team arrives early and refresher training is provided if needed. The scope and objectives typically have gone through several revisions by this time to narrow the scope of activity. After final briefing and team assignments, the teams go to war—a war on waste.

After seeing first-hand how the process currently is done, team members gather to brainstorm ideas for removing waste. Teams narrow the list of ideas from their respective brainstorming session and then go out and test them within the process.

Consortium members often become the work crew to test ideas with minimal disruption to those doing the actual work. This is especially helpful for events scheduled during busy seasons, when waste is most visible, offering the best opportunities for improvement.

When a process change occurs during this trial time, metrics are tracked and documented based on event objectives. These data are compared to
current state metrics. Positive results become the basis for creating a new “least waste way” of doing business.

Sustaining the Gains

After the event, the hosting company is expected to complete a to-do list the consortium put together and report on progress within 30 days. Visual controls, documentation, training and support from leaders sustain this positive change. Organizations who short-circuit this step find improvements are lost over time due to a tendency to drift backwards to a prior, more wasteful state.

The challenge of Lean is sustaining the gains over the long term. Some resist change because it’s uncomfortable—it’s human nature. The consortium spends a lot of time working to help leaders drive a culture of continuous improvement, which is key to making it work. It takes strong leadership with vision and tenacity to make significant, ongoing improvements in an organization.

Consortium Benefits

With so much talent to draw from at one time, each team on a consortium event has Lean veterans working alongside less experienced personnel. The learning curve drops dramatically and a great deal can be accomplished in a short time.

“Every individual in the consortium brings a new set of strengths that help propel the team forward,” says Alamillo. “It is very helpful to have trained people who are able to see waste quickly and have bias for action to eliminate it.”

Working with a consortium is also beneficial for peer support and accountability, as leaders work to develop an improvement culture in their businesses.

“The best part of the consortium is the ability to create trusted partnerships in the profession,” says Joe Wolf, project manager at Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas of Woodburn, Ore. “Everyone on the team is committed to an open-door policy, freely discussing process dynamics, and even financial, labor, and market constraints to that particular process. This allows us to all grow in depth as lead growers, producers, and leaders
while maintaining accountability to the observations and recommendations made by the consortium.”

Businesses often start the Lean journey on their own. They may read books, invest in training and have a consultant come in to run Lean events. Members of the Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium have found that a trusted group of peer companies, working together on Lean, not only brings results, but delivers a strong, positive message of long-term commitment to employee development and continuous improvement.

The Payoff

At the end of the event, teams assemble for the final report out. The site manager, often an event participant or sponsor, invites as many staff as possible to attend. Participants are tired but exhilarated after hearing the reports from each of the teams. Collectively, their efforts have saved the site many thousands of dollars, improved worker conditions and safety, reduced lead times and defects, and increased productivity while reducing crew size for a process. Not a bad day.

“I am continually impressed with the quality of people in this group and their ability to get results,” says Robinson. “Every time I do one of these events I think there is no possible way we’ll meet our goals – and sure enough, we exceed them.”

Eliminating Waste with Lean

Digger magazine, May 2016

Lean processes result in greater value for growers and their customers.

Another method nurseries are using to become more efficient and improve productivity is called Lean.

Lean is a way of identifying, reducing and eliminating waste in business processes.

Also known as the Toyota Production System, Lean recognizes that the concept of “value” must be from your customer’s perspective, not yours.

Value is created only when three criteria are met:

  • The customer is willing to pay for the product or service, and
  • The work transforms the product or service, and
  • The work is done right the first time.

When one or more of these criteria are missing, that indicates waste, or “non-value added” activity. Many are surprised to learn that the typical business has about 95 percent activity waste. Even Toyota, which has been practicing Lean since the 1950s, estimates that 50 percent of their activity is still non-value added.

Nurseries applying Lean can typically improve productivity for a given process by 40–80 percent or more. They do this by viewing processes from the customer’s perspective, and eliminating waste wherever possible.

Smith Gardens in Aurora, Oregon, is one grower that has adopted Lean.

“A key objective for us has been differentiating between ‘value added’ versus ‘non-value-added’ activities in order to understand and measure the waste that is being created,” said Andres Alamillo, inventory manager and Lean captain. “We were able to improve units per worker hour in our selecting process by 55 percent just by developing standard work — the ‘least waste way’ of doing the process.”

In their most recent improvement activity, Smith Gardens reduced worker hours by a third and improved productivity 475 percent.

Robinson Nursery in Amity, Oregon, adopted Lean several years ago and has reaped substantial benefits. “Since we’ve applied Lean principles to our grading process, our company has experienced a 37 percent productivity improvement in that area of the business,” nursery manager Chris Robinson said.

A typical shipping process can illustrate the benefits of Lean.

Workers might start by grouping all orders scheduled to ship on a given day by location in the field. Crews go to the field and product is pulled from the growing area, brought to a shipping warehouse in batches, cleaned and stuck with a tag in batches, then sorted onto shipping racks before being loaded onto trucks.

Orders going out that day would wait for all product to come in, to fill in missing gaps in orders. Product gets loaded onto final shipping racks and verified. If too much or too little of a product is pulled, orders must wait for the correction to be made before trucks can be loaded and released.

This process, as described, is packed with waste. From the customer’s perspective, the only value-added activity is attaching a tag, watering and possibly cleaning the product. None of the sorting, batching, transporting, handling and re-handling adds value to the product. This is waste — the target of Lean.

What is waste?

Toyota defines waste as seven types of activities that do not add value for the customer.

Transportation: Any action that moves product, information or materials from one place to another results in waste. In the example above, waste is created when moving plants from the field to the warehouse, re-organizing plants during cleaning and into customer orders, and moving plants into trucks.

Inventory: Accumulating more than the minimum needed for a process, such as batching product during pulling, during cleaning and tagging, and in the warehouse as it waits for the last group to come in, are examples of waste.

Motion: Movement of people often yields waste. The example above is full of motion waste — the product is picked up and put down excessively in the process.

Waiting: Waste happens when people, raw materials or product are idle. The product waits on racks for cleaning, then waits for the remainder of the day’s orders to be brought into the shipping warehouse. Crew members often wait for trailers or for instructions from supervisors on what to do next.

Overprocessing: Doing things beyond the needs of the customer is wasteful. This might be taking extra steps to clean the product beyond customer requirements, or searching the field to find the perfect product, rather than grabbing the first product that meets specifications of the customer.

Overproduction: Producing more than customers buy — or making it sooner than customers need it — are both forms of waste. Growing on speculation will naturally bring some overproduction and is a strategic choice you might find desirable. However, there can also be waste in your daily process. For example, when crews are pulling more product than is needed for a given order that is overproduction, which results in buildup of inventory.

Defects: Waste is made when a process has to be repeated or reworked; when a product must be fixed due to lack of information, standard work or knowledge about the process; and when mistakes occur. Waste is eliminated when the process is fixed, making it easy for people to do the right thing.
The goal of Lean is to eliminate as much waste as possible, in a way that respects the people working in the company. When you see any of the above in your business, you’ve just found an opportunity to learn and improve.

“Lean gives us the framework for improving productivity in our business,” said Mark Montville, nursery manager with PRT Oregon. “By looking at the seven wastes — and working to remove them — we are more productive and we give more value to our customer than ever before. By looking at value and waste from this perspective, I see new opportunities to improve this business every day.”

Nursery professionals must learn to “see” waste in its various forms before it can be removed or reduced. The Japanese have learned to go to the gemba — the place where the work is done — to see waste as it is happening. Approach the gemba with a learning attitude and appreciation for the people doing the work.

Lean is not a cost-reduction program or one-time “fix it” tactic, but a long-term perspective on how to do business with a disciplined structure for eliminating waste. With this perspective, go to the gemba today and see how much waste you can find! After all, the customer does not pay for waste; the grower does.

Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium Launched

Wilsonville, OR – February 12, 2016
A new consortium has been launched where nurseries and greenhouse operations work together to deploy Lean principles in their businesses.

Leaders with the Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium have committed to learning and applying principles of lean – or the Toyota Production System – together for one year. Top practitioners in each company meet for one-day sessions at a hosting nursery. Each session involves rapid training on a continuous improvement principle or tool, followed by immediate application and improvement.

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.

The first consortium session was held at an Oregon greenhouse operation on February 3. Two teams focused on a planting process, targeting the time it takes to change from one product type to the next, and the time and steps starting up the line at the beginning of each day. Company leaders determined to cut these times in half. The teams exceeded these expectations, reducing changeover time by 67 percent and startup by 56 percent. If the crew is able to apply the changes recommended by the teams, the company expects to benefit from staff time savings equivalent to $16,000 in the next six months.

“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.”

Four companies are currently involved in the consortium: Smith Gardens Aurora, Robinson Nursery, PRT Oregon, 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.