While the Japanese principle of ‘kaizen’, or Continuous Improvement (CI), is common around the world, Stuart Sharman is on a mission to see it become more widespread in Australian agriculture. Stuart has been looking at how CI management systems could help the business.
“CI is a philosophy that has originated in the manufacturing sector, and at Wynns we’ve been exploring its practicality to our business. Through Nuffield, I took the opportunity to have a look around the globe at other businesses that have been using CI to assess whether there are tools that we can apply to the viticultural sector across Australia,” Stuart explains.
He says CI can be defined as a deliberate, conscious decision to systematically improve a business, using a suite of tools.
“The ones that I’ve explored at farm gate level are practical problem-solving techniques, removing waste across your value-stream, and also, a very simple one is ‘5s’ (sort, set in order, shine, standardise and sustain), which is about bringing order to a workplace and setting standards."
Stuart says while implementing CI management systems can seem daunting, the key is starting small and building the knowledge of employees and people involved in the business.
“I’ve found the best approach is to work on a small project, get it right, celebrate that achievement and then plan to do some more. The observations that we’ve put in place at Wynns are about removing waste, and empowering employees to be able to solve problems and take responsibility for those solutions,” Stuart says.
While the concept of CI may seem prescriptive, potentially reducing business creativity, Stuart believes the opposite is true.
“I actually think it enhances the innovation and creativity of the employees, because they feel empowered that they can change their workplace. As a manager, our job is to enhance employee knowledge, not waste it – CI puts the onus back on to people who are adding value to the customer, to be able to change and improve,” he says.
While he says businesses using CI principles will see a benefit on the balance sheet, the process is not just about identifying economic returns.
“You need to invest in time and patience and employees, and the objective is to bring repeatability to the principles of continually improving and as that accumulates in time, the bottom line and the balance sheet will improve. If you’re looking for quick wins, if you’re looking for a reduction in labour, then really this philosophy is not about that, it’s about continually building the capacity of the business, and ensuring that you are there for a long, long time,” he explains. While Stuart didn’t find many farmers using CI practices as he travelled around the worldhe says that shouldn’t discourage the sector.
“To me I don’t think that precludes us from exploring using some of these tools, as I can see great wins in value-adding from using CI, we’ve just got to pick the right tools out to use at the farm gate level,” he concludes.