12 Jul 2019

Working smarter not harder - the lean approach to dairying

From Country Life, 9:42 pm on 12 July 2019
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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

When Jana Hocken first moved to a New Zealand dairy farm, she couldn't believe the inefficiencies she saw.

Jana's a business consultant who has spent her career stream-lining processes in manufacturing, defence, healthcare, rail, IT, mining and finance.

She worked for Toyota which developed what is known internationally as 'lean manufacturing' – systems to cut waste, cut costs and improve efficiency.

Jana and her husband Mat Hocken are now introducing some of these strategies on their farms.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Jana says she was stunned by the work practices on New Zealand farms. 

"I'd been teaching all this lean manufacturing stuff to almost every other industry... So when we came back to the farm I thought 'oh my goodness, this is crazy' because there was just so much wasted movement, you know? Everyone was doing their job their own way and there'd be ten different ways of doing things."

Jana was also astounded by the long working hours.

"Our farm was the same as any other farm, I think it was an 11-day-on 3-day-off roster when we came [here] and I thought 'this is just not sustainable. How can farmers do this?'"

Mat and Jana's team now work 5 days on, 2 days off and one of those days is always a weekend day.

"You need to be efficient to do that," she says.

Rather than sweeping problems and mistakes under the carpet, Mat and Jana welcome hearing about them.

"The more problems people can raise and we can talk about means we can improve," Jana says. 

A shadow board in the farm dairy ensures tools are in place.

A shadow board in the farm dairy ensures tools are in place. Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Mat says the introduction of lean principles on the farm has gone down well with their team.

"They love it... what we are doing is breaking a lot of things down for them, making it very standardised."

He says there are good processes to follow and clarity about what needs to be done. 

Frustration and stress levels have dropped under the new system, Jana says.

"People will think that efficiency is about making people work harder. Absolutely not. It's the opposite. It's about working smarter not harder."