Lean Gardening – Celebrate the Weeds

Part II of a IV Part series on gardening and some connections to lean. Let’s get dirty and pull some weeds.

My dad’s dad was the best gardener I ever knew.  Grandpa was amazing.  One of his many talents was reaping an incredible harvest from a relatively small chunk of land.  He and grandma proudly owned their 0.27 acre lot, a few miles from our house.  The back portion of the cozy lot was simply known as ‘the Garden’.

Having this pint-sized piece of property didn’t stop my grandfather from farming what seemed like an endless variety of fruits and vegetables.  He was envied by most of  ‘the old guys’ at the Saturday morning farmer’s market.  Forced into finding unique ways to squeeze the most from his land, he relentlessly pursued new techniques to grow plants in an effort to increase harvest yield.

I think I may have picked up some engineering skills just by watching him.  Who do you know grows pole beans using a bicycle tire and parts from an old swing set?  Garden moonshine.

Every gardener knows that one of the unfortunate side effects of growing a good garden, is the dreaded weeds.  Even though grandpa was a master at things like seed propagation for next year and staggering planting cycles to level load cucumber throughput, he couldn’t avoid at least some weeds.

I learned a lot from my grandfather in the garden.  One valuable lesson he taught me was not to get ‘all bent out of shape’ with the weeds.  I loved some of his sayings.  He said our part was to do our best to limit the weeds, but realize that some would inevitably need to be dealt with.

I don’t know anyone who routinely enjoys picking weeds.

How did grandpa get us to help with picking the weeds?  We had a little ‘pre-harvest’ celebration.  One of the rules in the garden was that no one could deem a plant or veggie ready for harvest…except grandpa.  As a result, he had developed a nifty little incentive plan that made pulling weeds almost enjoyable. He would let us pluck a few carrots (or strawberries on those occasions when the weeds were particularly nasty) and we would wash them off in the cool water from the hose.

Being allowed to pick early produce under the watchful eye of my grandfather was like a rite of passage.  He was a keen motivator, especially when it came to garden upkeep. Taking nibbles here and there of nature’s special candy, we would harvest weeds until our fingers turned green and started to ache.

Lean implementation often involves pulling weeds.  Well intentioned plans start off well, but over time we begin to experience issues:  Unbalanced product flows, 5S backsliding, and equipment breakdowns.  Poor team communication, spikes in supplier defects, or we lose a major customer.  If we’re not quick to analyze situations and determine root causes…up come the weeds.

I have yet to witness, or be part of, a perfectly successful lean implementation. Far from it. We can’t avoid all the weeds.  As lean leaders, it’s our job to do our best and limit the weeds and the negative impact they can have on team efforts.

Most organizations are fully aware that lean thinking brings with it the challenges of constantly getting better and adapting to changes in culture and behavior.  Few however, seem to make the connection that implementing lean can actually make tasks easier…that we can get to a place where workloads are less and stress levels are lower.

It doesn’t always have to be push, push, push.  Lean is about pull.

Do you work in an environment where lean has been successful to the point that the team can actually celebrate new weeds they see starting to grow?  Is your job designed to keep pushing more work on other folks, or are you free to help those you work with by pulling in new ideas to explore?

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About Steve Martin - theThinkShack

Hey there...I'm Steve. I built theThinkShack...a virtual hideaway about Lean Thinking and how it Connects to Everyday Life.
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