Lean Management- the key to a Cheshire dairy enterprise
We chat to Andrew Fletcher, a dairy farmer and member for the AHDB Dairy Board from Macclesfield, Cheshire. Andrew wanted to learn more about lean management and how it could help him to improve his business, so he recently attended two EuroDairy lean management workshops, one at Reaseheath, UK in September 2018 and another international workshop in Denmark in November 2018. Lorna Gow from AHDB Dairy caught up with Andrew to find how the workshops went and if he has made any changes on his own farm as a results of the workshops.
Lorna: What got you into LEAN management?
Andrew: As we started to dramatically expand the farm a few years ago across more sites, we ran into real issues with managing our units, we were expanding rapidly and it was unmanageable, so we needed to put some structure in place without losing the ‘people first’ element. We wanted to have some form of over-arching system in place across sites that our staff can work with and that helps to drive improvement.
Lorna: Why did you want to learn more about lean management?
Andrew: I wanted to gain a methodology for improving productivity, to create not just a piece meal approach, but an overreaching format to help make decisions and drive productivity on my own holdings. Essentially, I wanted to learn how to make improvements in a structured way, a broader based general push.
Lorna: What did you implement in terms of lean?
Andrew: One of the key things I have learnt from lean is the importance of collecting data. The lean management workshop helped us to realise that in order to make good decisions, you need good, high quality data.
For example we started collecting data on the mobility scores of all of our herds so we knew precisely where the lameness figures were. A lame cow is an unproductive unprofitable animal, so if we maintain low lameness levels we are winning from both an economical and welfare point of view. Once we had those figures we could actually review and start to drive improvement. It represented a move away from relying on opinion to a set of figures, so you are basing your work on facts, which helps with managing staff as everyone is on the same page.
Lorna: What did you make of the Denmark lean management trip and what stood out to you?
Andrew: I was really keen to learn what the rest of Europe are doing differently to us and what direction we should be moving in. I think we have done some very good stuff so far in the UK, but their view of people management is far more advanced than ours and I learnt that you need to engage people a lot more in order to tackle particular areas of your business and solve personal issues.
Lorna: What did you find most valuable from the workshops?
Andrew: It was good to see the difference between bad lean management and good lean management. However, the main thing for me was the mixture of farmers and researchers, it was really valuable to get that level of insight and understand the different perspectives. It means that you can lock in where you are and compare yourself against others. As a farmer it can be hard to understand the theoretical approaches, but likewise a load of farmers talking together will go off on tangents, so there was a nice healthy mix.
Lorna: Would you be interested in attending future lean workshops?
Andrew: Definitely! Lean management principles have withstood the test of time, manufacturing companies have been using and sharpening the techniques for many years and we are now seeing agricultural companies getting involved and picking up lean. It’s something that remains relevant and I think in ten years’ time lean principles with be a standard within farm businesses.
Lorna: What would you say to people thinking of implementing lean management on their farms?
I think the main thing I have taken away is that good people drive the whole farm operation. You have to put people first, and if you increase the capabilities of your staff, you will in turn increase the profitability of your business.