Lean’s Impact in the Plant Yard

Hosted at Botanical Designs, Seattle Washington

The Washington Lean Consortium came together to improve productivity and flow in the plant yard of Botanical Designs, an innovative commercial landscaping company that provides high-impact interior and exterior business landscapes and professional plant maintenance for customers in Seattle and the greater King County area.

Botanical Designs’ plant yard is composed of plant and tool storage for current landscape projects. The company had moved into this space about three years ago, and had to set up shop immediately. The plant yard had fallen into dysfunction, and therefore people working in the area had a difficult time finding what was needed for the job. When the processes were looked at from a Lean perspective, several opportunities to remove waste were uncovered. For example, two crewmembers took 39 minutes–and walked 434 feet–to select plants for a single rack to take to a job site. There were also several tripping hazards and other safety issues across the yard.

The company wanted to reassess the area for organization and functional use. Specifically, they focused on the racking process (from delivery vehicle to installation crew loading), yard layout (empty racks, plants pending for installation, and emergency plant inventory), and hardgoods/tool organization. In the past they had job positions that focused on the organization and upkeep of the plant yard, but currently did not have anyone in this position. The company wanted to determine whether or not it was necessary to hire someone, or if a process could be developed to keep the area in order without additional staff.

The Process of Improvement

The Botanical Designs team began by systematically documenting the current state of the process – videotaping, measuring distance people were walking, and timing processes. Members of the Washington Lean Consortium then came to the site to perform “5S,” a Lean method for organizing the workplace.

5S is an important tool for removing excess materials and/or tools from the workplace and organizing the required items so they are easy to find, use and maintain. 5-S helps create a self-sustaining culture, which promotes a neat, clean, efficient, and safe workplace.

The team started by removing unnecessary items from the area. Crewmembers assisted the team in eliminating more than two truckloads of items, including non-sellable plants, tools, and hardgoods. The Botanical Designs team was receptive to team members’ encouragements to let go of items that were obsolete or not in good working condition, allowing the area to be free of barriers and distractions. The team swept pavement, removed remaining trash, and used a backpack blower to clean up the plant yard.

Having the area clean and clear of unneeded items allowed the team to envision and lay out the flow of different processes in the area.

One critical process performed in the area is selecting plants for landscaping jobs. The team put racks in order, which allowed designers to select appropriate material quickly and sequentially to fill racks for transportation to the job site. They would spend much less time searching for needed product. Temporary visual controls were put in place to see if the new process flow reduced waste and saved time for those responsible for plant selection.

As team members trialed the process in the new layout, they found that one person could select a shipping rack’s worth of material in less than seven minutes—increasing productivity (units per worker hour) from 71 to 361. Consortium members were energized to discover the new process improved productivity 408%. With this type of gain, one person could do the work of five people.

Critical Follow Up for Sustaining the Gains

The final steps in 5S involve setting up – and following — a consistent process and soft accountability for performing 5S audits and safety inspections to keep the area in order. Visual controls are an important part of maintaining organization and minimizing opportunities for clutter.

As the team was preparing to leave, members of the crew working in the area eagerly expressed their thanks to members of the consortium for helping to make their jobs easier and improving the work environment in the plant yard. Having this new flow and standard work was a big encouragement and motivator for those who deliver value to the customer every day.

Value to Botanical Designs

  • People travel 47 percent less to find what they need.
  • Lead time for racking reduced 81 percent
  • Elimination of all un-installable flats
  • 408 percent increase in productivity (units per worker hour) on the racking process
  • Engaged and motivated workforce

“The Lean 5S event was much more than a “clean-up” project, which we have done numerous times without lasting result. Taking the time beforehand to analyze the current methods was invaluable. We suddenly saw not only the obvious internal issues, but also how the interaction of other departments and even vendors delivering product could benefit with some simple changes. The amount accomplished in one day was astounding, and could not have been directed by one person to get that type of result. The teams were focused and collaborated with each other. We now have a punch-list of longer-term goals, and are staying on track, testing the new methods and tweaking as needed. Team members are accountable to one another, and we actively look for new places to improve.”

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