Posted By: Asha Bianca
Published: August 8, 2017
Lean principles are key to any successful business. We know this intrinsically, but quantifying and procreating it is a more difficult exercise. I recently toured a completely organic and biodynamic farm. It struck me how incredibly good they are at this topic of continuous improvement. And this is for one key reason—their very survival depends on it.
For example, it takes several years to even qualify as an organic farm. This means that similar to the journey many companies are on to permeate the lean culture throughout every level of their organization (refining who you’re going to be, how you’re going to be it, and obtaining any type of title associated with those efforts), the endeavor is a marathon...not a sprint.
Another example is the term biodynamic, which in the sense of farming, observes treating the entire farm as one ecosystem. They must understand how one influence (pigs for instance) impacts and affects another (apple orchard soil). This enterprise-wide view is key to continuous improvement, because a company is a living breathing organism where every part affects another.
The tour hit home when the farmer explained they had to tear out an entire section of a particular crop variety because it didn’t work well with the farm’s overall objective. The cost of maintaining it would have been simply too high, taking the entire farm into account. This bold decision to conserve the main goal, even if it caused a temporary loss, was inspiring. The practice of lining up products, work, and resources to really see how they are benefiting the primary goal, and then having the courage to take a loss in order to focus on the greater good, is an exercise every great leader should utilize more often.
My final observation from this tour, and how it relates to our business world, is one of continuous experimentation. This goes hand in hand with continuous improvement. The rigor with which they tried new things continually struck me. There was a growing tunnel built purely for experimentation, and it was used to test new ways of doing things...and often, those experiments failed! However, sometimes a success turned into the next big thing that led to another season of earnings. This commitment to innovation is a big one. The time, energy, and resources involved in testing something every single day of the year is a discipline that many companies could learn from.
Following are some key continuous improvement takeaways from farming that also apply in the conference room: