Greenhouse Canada

Business Management
Applying ‘Lean’ in green

What Works Well in Manufacturing Has a Place in the Greenhouse

April 15, 2015
By Dale Schattenkirk


May 2015 – Today’s markets make it tougher and tougher to maintain margins, which are thin and volatile to begin with. The workforce is typically multi-generational and international in nature, creating challenges to productivity and communication.

This is the greenhouse industry’s reality every day. It’s not an easy environment to be successful in.

So what can we do about it? Throughout Canada, Lean is starting to emerge as a way to engage this diverse work population and increase margins to maintain viability for the industry.


Lean is a quality improvement methodology that is built on the foundation of respect for people. This does not mean simply being polite, or our typical understanding of the term respect.

Respect for people means giving everyone working in an organization the opportunity to work to the full extent of their skill set. It means respecting what they can offer to improve the organization; reduce firefighting activities, move to proactive work, and utilize everyone to achieve a strong, productive organization.

The Lean structure focuses on three fundamental ideas, or pillars: capacity, infrastructure
and leadership.

Capacity is the training the staff receive to understand how to use different quality improvement tools on a daily basis.

Infrastructure involves the tools, templates and methods that will be used to implement changes within the work environment.

Leadership focuses on how to lead a Lean organization, on “change management” and on engaging staff.

Lean uses numerous change tool sets to improve the greenhouse industry. These three are an example from the diverse Lean toolbox.

Changeover reduction – This focuses on looking at how long it takes to change from one task or operation to another.

For example: clean-out of the greenhouse. There are many tasks required to change a greenhouse over. But every day there are no plants, you are not making any revenue. Having boxes ready with all the supplies and tools you need for clean-out prevents the “hunting and gathering” that happens during a typical clean-out.

Mistake proofing – There are two types of mistake-proofing devices.

Prevention makes it so a mistake cannot happen, and detection warns or notifies that a mistake is going to or has already happened. In one example, a pillar was placed in the aisle to prevent tomato vines from being hit by carts or fork trucks. This mistake-proofing device helped to reduce lost plants due to damage by 50 per cent, increasing production
and revenue.

Visual management – These are steps we take so anyone knows how to do something without being told. It is similar to when you pull into a parking lot and you have yellow lines telling you where to park your car.

These three examples give a sense of simple changes that can have a huge impact on the process and outcomes.

For these types of ideas to emerge, leadership at all levels needs to ask simple questions. The questions should focus on the process, not the people. This is sometimes hard to do as it’s easiest to identify someone when things go wrong, versus looking at the process and identifying what
went wrong.

The Lean tool set can help you with improving production, revenue and customer satisfaction daily.

Until next time, keep improving.

Dale Schattenkirk, president of LTS, has worked with the agri-food business all over Canada, teaching business owners how they can use Lean to improve profit margins, quality, service and safety levels. •

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