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.”