Changing the Paradigm: Part 3 of Jim's visit to a Lean farm
"Plot kanban" lean thinking at work
With clarity about purpose and value, Ben and Rachel have been on a multi-year journey to apply Lean principles to every aspect of their production and the way they treat those who work with them on the farm. They have pioneered "market-ready harvesting" to minimize the touches between field and customer, right-sized tools with quick changeovers to minimize the amount and cost of equipment needed, "seed kanban" to always have the planting material needed without tying up cash in just-in-case inventories, "plot kanban" to know immediately when a plot of land is ready for a new crop and exactly what crop to plant, quick changeovers of plots so the new crop goes in the same day the old crop comes out, and heijunka scheduling to spread the work of the farm evenly over a 12-month growing season to eliminate idle (wasted) assets and to prevent the seasonal mura and muri of the traditional farm as well.
I'll leave the full details to Ben's book, which I believe you will find fascinating whatever industry you are in. But a couple of counter-intuitive practices are important to share:
Given their purpose of a good lifestyle with an adequate income, they have continually reduced the size of their farm as their productivity has grown, from seven acres to one half-acre of cropped area, while exceeding their net income target. And they have cut back in the summer – when home gardens and the big produce farmers bring their crops to market and send prices plummeting – to camp (and write books) while going full blast the other nine months in their heated greenhouses. Why is it that everyone else trying to transform a business using Lean methods seems to think that dramatic growth and ever increasing wealth is the only measure of success?
As they look ahead, one of the big remaining wastes is the waste of transportation. Their customers are concentrated in two small cities some miles from the farm, necessitating long drives (although vastly shorter field-to-table distances than those experienced by most vegetables today.) So why not move their half-acre farm to a spot between these adjacent cities that minimizes transport time and cost? Really local food!
Let's get this straight: Ben and Rachel (assisted by Shingo the watch dog) are making a good living for their family with a good work/life balance by growing vegetables 365 days a year (with the help of student labor from a nearby college in the summer so they can be away) on a half-acre of land. They use little external energy (mostly for greenhouse heating in the winter) with no chemical fertilizer or pesticides. And they have reduced the waste of shrinkage and overproduction dramatically compared with big-farm-to-big-grocery production, distribution, and retailing (where up to 20 percent of annual planting isn't even harvested due to miscalculations about market demand.)
Why aren't all our vegetables grown this way? Perhaps in the future they will be. Certainly Lean thinking has now established a beachhead in agriculture for the first time. And I hope thousands of small farmers will copy (and improve on) Ben and Rachel's methods. But what about the big, mass-production farming industry? It feels to me like the auto industry in 1965, with high entry barriers, lax safety standards, and minimal environmental demands. A Lean leap in big farming that minimizes energy and water requirements (and CO2 and methane emissions) while providing currently unavailable freshness and variety at the same or lower costs to the consumer seems hard to imagine now. But so did the triumph of Toyota and Lean thinking the year before the Corolla was launched.”
About the Author Everyone reading this eLetter knows Jim Womack as the founder of the Lean Enterprise Institute from which we continue to draw value and new thinking. The intellectual basis for the Cambridge, MA-based Institute is described in a series of books and articles co-authored by Jim himself and Daniel Jones over the past 25 years. During the period 1975-1991, he was a full-time research scientist at MIT directing a series of comparative studies of world manufacturing practices. As research director of MIT’s International Motor Vehicle Program, Jim led the research team that coined the term “Lean production” to describe Toyota’s business system. He served as LEI’s chairman and CEO from 1997 until 2010 when he was succeeded by John Shook.
ATJ’s Vision To make a difference that matters. ATJ is committed to the first principle of lean and believes value is determined from the standpoint of the customer (our readers). Mission ATJ is a voluntary operation that respects, supports, and seeks input from all sources including our readers through an open trust-and-integrity based process that acknowledges all contributions, while always seeking to provide increasing value. Designed by: M&O Lean Communications 2016