Seven lessons from_farming_for_process_improvement
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Seven lessons from_farming_for_process_improvement Document Transcript

  • 1. Seven Lessons from Farming for Process ImprovementContributor: Pratik Shah Linked In ProfilePosted: 05/31/2011 12:00:00 AM EDTWeeds are troublesome plants that divert precious soil resources away frommore valuable crops. Sound familiar to waste in processes? Pratik Shah saysthat process improvement practitioners could learn a lot from farming.Farmers have to adapt to changing conditions year on year: different weatherpatterns, changing soil conditions, new technology, more resistant pests andviruses etc. Farmers must upgrade their processes and working methodseach year to get the best outcome.This scenario could be compared to the challenges facing globalorganisations - regardless of whether it’s an IT company, a bank, or amanufacturer. The core business will vary, the processes will be different, butthe need to continuously upgrade existing processes and adapt to changingconditions is the same regardless of your industry.But the problem is that many businesses struggle with adapting processes tochange. Here’s what process improvement practitioners should learn fromfarming:1. Involve Workers in DecisionsFarm workers know the soil best. They know what is good for different seedsand how the climatic conditions will affect those seeds. A farmer would becrazy to make decisions without the input of those working in the fields asthey will best understand the impact of any proposed changes.Similarly in an organization, employees are the best candidates to suggestwhat sort of change they expect, what needs most attention, proposesolutions, and identify unnecessary work that is a waste of time and money.We must not forget that processes are human driven and engaging workers isthe key to successful process improvement.2. Pick Out WeedsWeeds are troublesome plants that divert precious soil resources away frommore valuable crops. They are often fast growing, hardy, and pop up justabout anywhere at any time. A farmer will invest considerable effort inremoving weeds because he realizes that unless he weeds his field regularly,they will diminish the success of the overall crop.
  • 2. So it goes with companies – there will always be unwanted waste that cropsup in the processes of a company - processes can become redundantovertime, or include unnecessary steps that eat up time, resources andconcentration.Organizations need to carefully identify what is needed and what is notneeded. But tinker at your peril - some processes that may look unnecessaryin one part of the company could be crucial for another. A farmer won’t pullanything that’s green and growing out the ground and neither should you stripout everything that looks wasteful without first understanding why it exists.3. Prepare the fieldOnce the weeds are picked, the farmer tills the field, confident in theknowledge that he has removed the vast majority of weed seeds that wouldinterfere with the success of his crop. Now that the weeds have been pickedhe is sure that his labor and other inputs are going directly to improve theprospects of the desired crop and not to weeds. He tills the field in straightlines as he understands that this is the most efficient way of farming, enablingaccess to the crops while they’re growing, and making it easy to harvest thecrop.Similarly in a company, once unwanted processes are identified and removed,you want to make sure that the remaining processes are organized in the bestway and aligned with the overall goals of the company. If not, restructurethem, make changes, until they’re aligned and ready for further improvement.4. Choose Treatments CarefullyFarmers use fertilizers and other chemicals to boost harvests and ward offpests. Selecting the right product for the climate, soil and seed is essential toits success. Similarly, organizations need to leverage technology to makesubstantial efficiency improvement in processes. Evaluate the advantagesand disadvantages of each option according to business requirements.5. Understand What Youre Trying to AchieveWhat is the farmer hoping to achieve from all this work? That’s probably fairlyself evident – a successful crop. Other outcomes – like improved soil qualityand reduced weed growth – are mechanisms to achieve the overall outcome.If the farmer was not clear on the fact that his success would be determinedby the abundance of his overall crop he may make different decisions alongthe way. For instance, if he defined and measured his mission as “reducedweed growth” he would observe that he could achieve this by not applyingfertilizer – but in doing so he would harm the success of his crop.
  • 3. In business, clearly defining and understanding the objective of processimprovement is essential. What is the overall outcome that we are wanting toachieve? What are the smaller outcomes that will help us get there?If you are not clear what your process improvement is trying to achieve youmay be focusing on the wrong processes and achieving outcomes that do notcontribute to what actually matters most.6. Maintain the CropWould a farmer ignore his field for a month? Of course not, weeds would startto crop up all over the place, pests could attack, and the entire crop could failif he did!Processes - new and existing – must be monitored to ensure that theycontinue to function as designed. Keep an eye on them and set up agovernance system that overlooks all processes and makes sure they arebeing followed appropriately.7. Have Patience & Measure Your ProgressThe final thing that process improvement practitioners can learn from farmersis the importance of patience and measuring your progress. Processimprovement is not a one-off activity or not something which can be rushedthrough in a couple of days. It is an ongoing activity.Thats why it is important to measure your progress. You want to make surethat youre heading in the right direction (i.e. is the farmers crop growing andhow quickly?). As improvement is a long term activity, you want to baselineyour measurements and review them often to see how well - or badly - youredoing.Prepare the ground well, don’t neglect your crop while it’s growing, keep aneye out for recurring and perennial weeds but no matter how well you’veprepared the soil don’t expect your seeds to mature overnight into a fullygrown plant.About Process Excellence NetworkProcess Excellence Network is a free to join online community, providingcritical knowledge on the development of Process Excellence includingBusiness Process Management (BPM), Lean, Change Management,Operational Excellence, Six Sigma, Risk Management, Customer Experienceand more. We provide the forum where key industry experts andorganizations share their experience, knowledge and tools, and yourpractitioner peers connect with one another all over the world, both face-to-face and online. Membership is free, the content is priceless.Join the Process Excellence Network Linked In Group today! LinkedInProcess Excellence Network (PEXN)