I regularly get asked whether lean is only suitable for larger farming businesses. The answer is absolutely not. It is just as useful for smaller farms. If you are an owner operator time is even more precious to you. It is even more important that you are as efficient and effective with your time as possible – you have no one else that you can depend on or delegate to.
If you are an owner operator that is doesn’t have a minute the day spare, never can take time off, and feels like they are chasing their tail all day, then lean tools and principles will help you.
Lean helps any farm business become better organised and systemised. If as a farm owner you create good systems for yourself, your planning and organisation will improve and this will give you better structured control of your business rather and organised chaos.
You will be able to be better prepared, and become proactive in the operation of your farm rather than reactive and in constant fire -fighting mode. Implementing some of the lean tools is in fact easier in a smaller farm business because as a owner operator you have complete control and accountability to making it happen. It is your decision and you answer to yourself only. The tools are the easy part – it is changing mindsets and behaviours of people that is the hard part. Therefore if there aren’t any other people in your business it takes this challenge out of the equation.
How can lean help the smaller farming business? Here are just a few ways lean will help:
By creating simple systems and routines for yourself (yes they are possible!! Remember it is your business and you have complete control – you decide on the priorities) you will start to work more efficiently and jobs will become easier to do. You will become better organised, have a more forward thinking approach to actions and decision making rather than ad hoc and reactive, and have effective planning in place. Your prioritisation will also improve and you will start to reduce WASTE. People are creatures of habit and we like routines and standards – we subconsciously create them in many things we do like making a cup of tea. So this is actually natural to us and helps us.
When you work for yourself, it is very easy to keep all the information in your head. What the feed plan is, where the cows will be grazed, when fertiliser was applied, what the grass round lengths are, what the maintenance jobs are, if the right minerals and supplements have been ordered, what are all the outstanding jobs/ to do lists, when are suppliers or contractors coming and so on. The simple fact is that this creates a lot of clutter in our minds and adds to enormous stress for us. We have to remember a lot of information across many different areas. Getting this information out of your head onto a visual format such as a whiteboard, will help to give you better clarity around what is going on on your farm, help you to better prioritise your actions and tasks and make better decisions by looking at data visually in a different way, able to immediately see trends and gaps. Further by getting your to do lists out of your head you are able to tackle them bit by bit in a more controlled way. It will help you to be in much better control of your farm.
Most of what we do on farm is repetitive. Whether we do it daily, weekly, monthly or annually – the majority of our tasks and processes are repetitive. This means that we actually have the perfect environment on farm to work out the best way to do a particular job, standardise it, document it in a simple one page visual standard and continuously improve it. What this will do for you is that you will always do the same job, the same best way (meaning saving time, cost, frustration etc) and get the same result. Instead of trying to remember what you did and how you did it the last time to get the result, you will know exactly. Having some standard in place no matter how simple, also gives you the foundation from which to improve. It sets a baseline.
5S – workplace organisation
Do you ever spend time looking for things? – The correct size wrench, the fence tester, the right size pipe fitting, standards, tools, implements ? If you have had to look for something recently and if it took you longer than 2 seconds to find it then 5S will help you. Creating a workplace where everything has a home and everything is in its place/ home will help you to work much more efficiently. Further if things are located where they are needed this will save valuable time in going to find a tool you need in a particular work area.
A well organised clean farm, improves the condition of your tools and equipment and facilties. It ensures these are all well maintained preventing non planned breakdowns. It also creates a safe, more enjoyable and less frustrating work environment, increases quality and saves you time and money.
Not only are all these lean tools essential for you as a owner operator, but if you do want totake time off, it will be it much easier to hand over your farm to another person for a period so that you can leave. Having these type of systems in place, will give you more confidence is someone else running the farm while you are gone and it makes it much easier to check in and ensure all is going to plan.