Boost Greenhouse Productivity Using Manufacturing Systems

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Manufacturing and wholesale growing have a lot in common. Agriculture is a unique industry. It takes a devoted person who is prepared to work long hours, often for little pay. The reward is often the lifestyle, and the satisfaction of transforming a seed into a beautiful plant. Manufacturing also requires a devoted person, working long hours, often for little pay. At the end of the day, it is the satisfaction of building something new and helping our customers that keeps us going.

Over the last decade, manufacturers have been bombarded with new efficiency systems: Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, Continuous improvement, Kanban, the 5S System, Kaizen, etc. This is especially true in North America where increased efficiencies are needed to compete against low-cost labor off shore.

But interestingly enough, these systems do not often get considered by the wholesale greenhouse grower. So here are five ideas borrowed from manufacturing that can be used to boost productivity in the greenhouse.

1. Reward Small Failures

Remember, if your employees are afraid to fail, they will be afraid to try. Productivity is a process, so treat it like one. Allow your team to try small experiments for boosting output. Establish rewards for both victories and failures.

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career,” Michael Jordan famously said. “I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

2. Reward Efficiency

On a recent tour of an advanced manufacturing factory in Toronto, the VP of Operations reviewed his Kanban whiteboards with me. They posted the hourly target for the line, and the line supervisor marked how many units were finished each hour. The goal was to produce exactly the target for each hour, not less, but also not more. Too much production meant excess finished goods inventory, a “no-no” in lean manufacturing. For a wholesale grower with a perishable finished goods inventory, this is a key point. Structure rewards that value efficiency.

3. Train The Trainers

First, model the behavior you want. Then, train your greenhouse supervisors to implement best practices quickly. Spend money and time investing in their training, but don’t stop there. Reward your leaders for achieving milestones. The culture of a company depends on all the leaders being on the same team, if you want an environment focused on improvements in productivity, everyone needs to be thinking about where and how they can improve productivity.

4. Reward Partnerships

When I was in University, I interviewed for a job at a large electrical supply company.  Applicants were given a mini-booklet that explained the company. It started by saying “The customer comes first,” then it defined customer: “A person or organization we depend on to do business.”

On the next page it broke that definition out further. “Our customer is our customer. We depend on them to buy our products. Our supplier is our customer. We depend on them to provide quality products. Our employee is our customer. We depend on them to do the work. Our bank is our customer. We depend on them to supply the money.”

You get the idea. Work with all your stakeholders to garner ideas and implement improvements. And recognize their contributions with endorsements, customer referals, a heartfelt thank you note, a bottle of wine or a beautiful floral arrangement.

5. Reward Outcomes

Finally, remember the end game. Identify tangible, measurable goals before embarking on any productivity-boosting campaign. Assign leaders to implement the plan and then get prepared to reward achievements. In the process, workers will come to see that performance isn’t just a corporate mandate but a shared goal that comes with shared rewards.

When it comes to process flow, there are many similarities between the manufacturing of goods and plant production in a greenhouse. Think about how you can put these five ideas to work in your own greenhouse business.

Leigh Coulter (leigh@ggs-greenhouse.com) is owner of GGS Structures Inc.
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