Sergio Ros Hernandez is the lean and mechanisation director at G’s Fresh, an organisation of agricultural suppliers for produce growers around Europe. The company fully embraces lean ideas.
Simply put, yes it is possible, to embrace lean in the agriculture sector -and very successfully. Three years ago when the managing director of G’s Fresh offered me to the chance to become the lean manager for the group in Spain, I accepted it because I was sure we would be able to make it happen. A year to date after we began, G’s Fresh has a very powerful lean team distributed in three countries, helping the business embrace the lean culture.
G’s Fresh is Europe’s leading fresh produce company. Established in 1952, G’s Fresh is vertically integrated and is driven by market leading innovation and customer insight. We supply to customers across UK, Europe and the USA. G’s Fresh is a truly vertically integrated grower-to-marketing organisation.
What sets G’s Fresh apart from others is that we manage the entire process from seed to shelf; via growing through to production and marketing. Our farms and production facilities are located throughout the UK, Spain, the Czech Republic and the USA and we employ over 5000 thousand people.
Two essential milestones before starting:
In the very beginning of any lean journey, there are two milestones that should be taken into account:
- Total commitment and understating from the top direction of the company: if you do not have this one, your lean transformation is doomed to fail and it would be better to not even attempt it. Lean is not just a tool which is used to improve productivity but also a culture, and a way of getting your workforce involved, and eventually a management system which will change the mindset of a business.
- The right lean team to put it in place: This can be done by either getting external consultants in or by recruiting highly-experienced people to the team. From past experiences, many companies wanting to start their lean journey- even the ones fully committed at the board level- fail in this critical point.
- Unfortunately, in the current economic climate, companies are always looking to shave expenses, and there are many people saying they know about lean because they have attended basic training or read some books. This can be tempting to use instead of an experienced lean practioner.
- When it comes to lean, the more different sectors and challenges you have implemented in, the greater the knowledge you have. It is a crystal clear example of learning by doing.
How did we get started?
Any organisation embracing lean should undertake diagnostics phase. This phase is always needed when starting to design a programme for a company. It took G’s Fresh several weeks to design a three year plan, in which defined the following:
- Analysis of what lean principles where suitable to be used in this sector. Try not use any acronyms nor Japanese words nor difficult concepts for people to quickly understand what the company would be expecting from them from the beginning.
- The results of this action was to come up with our own programme for implementing lean based on seven steps called the G’s Fresh lean management system.
- Areas/departments/factories to go in their own pace within the three year plan.
- To define responsibilities and expectations from whoever is involved in the lean journey. It is important to say that on the G’s Fresh model the lean facilitator trains, guides and pushes, but does not make decisions, as that is the task of the lean champion of that area.
- The team, number of lean facilitators needed, to make it happen on time without delays.
- To create our own training system based on five different levels of knowledge adapting the complexity of our system to the environment we were in.
From an honest point of view, this issue has been one of the main causes of our success and, for giving an example, a new implementation does not start at G’s Fresh until the lean training has been provided to all the workforce involved in that area. Lean is about respect, lean is about people.
Year to date
In terms of the G’s Fresh lean management system, we are 80% permanent; which means we know what we’re doing and here we’re going but it is open to be adapted for changes or new ideas coming from the people who work for it.
People within the company recognise lean as the management system which will come along with us in the following years. It provides a healthy atmosphere where people feel and understand much more the company they work for.
At G’s Fresh we strongly believe that by training our people and by getting the best out of them the business performance will continue to be successful.