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Are You Lean and Mean in Your Farming Processes? Take a Look at Lean Six Sigma Basics

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The principles of Lean Six Sigma apply to any type of work and business, including the day-to-day operations on your farm. Let’s look at a few of those principles and some agricultural applications that can positively affect your bottom line.

DMAIC Problem-Solving

This basic understanding of Lean Six Sigma thinking is the DMAIC problem-solving flow, which includes these steps:

  • Define the scope and impact of the problem: for example, the soybean profit center was off $100K in revenue this year.
  • Measure: Determine what additional measurements are needed to quantify the problem (for example, annual soybean yield).
  • Analyze the measurements that you’ve made to establish a statistical problem (for example, mean yield was off target by 10%).
  • Develop solutions to improve the statistical problem: for example, isolate key variables such as seeding rate.
  • Control: Establish controls to ensure the practical solution continues to be effective (for example, periodic calibration of planting rate).

Controlling Cost of Waste with “W-UPTIME”

The 7 forms of waste create this acronym:

  • Waiting: Are your trucks backed up at the elevator waiting to unload?
  • Under-utilized talent: Do you lack clear grant of authority, requiring managers to ask permission for each decision they make?
  • Processing: Are you making more passes over each field than needed?
  • Transportation: Are your trucks properly loaded and routed, and are goods protected?
  • Inventory: Do you have seed and other inputs left over after planting and spraying?
  • Motion: Do you use SOPs to avoid inefficiencies in movement?
  • Errors: Do you experience events such as corn spillage or combine accidents during harvest?

5S Organization

5S is an organizational system designed to increase productivity and quality:

  • Sort: Does your shop contain only necessary tools in their proper places, organized according to your system?
  • Straighten: Are the tools easily accessible, with most frequently used ones most handy?
  • Shine: Are your workshop, cabs, and trucks clean and tidy?
  • Standardize: Do you have SOPs detailing how to use each tool and perform each process?
  • Sustain: Are you encouraging, motivating, and training your workers to continue these practices?

Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping (VSM) is a visual tool used to display critical data and improve focus of a project. The following steps are key to developing these maps for process improvement:

  • Define the boundaries: What will be included in the project?
  • Define the value: What products or services have similar processes? Which are highest growth or give you the most bang for your buck?
  • “Walk” through the current process and document it.
  • Gather data about the current process. Consider time, resources, costs.
  • Create a “current state” map of the process as it is being done now.
  • Analyze current conditions. Document conditions affecting the current process.
  • Visualize the “ideal state” and draw a map or illustration of what that result looks like.
  • Implement your “future state” map to achieve the “ideal state.”
  • Develop and track action plans evaluating, maintaining, and improving the “future state” result.

For example, if your office bulletin board looks like the one on the left below, you could use VSM to do this:



Poka-Yoke is a Japanese term for mistake-proofing. The process enables you to prevent mistakes before they happen. For example, you might color-code couplings to ensure wiring is done correctly or use plugs that only fit in the correct socket.


Literally an acronym for “six-minute change of dies,” SMED is a process used to reduce changeover time. The following four steps will help you do this:

  • Document current operations (possibly film operation for review later)
  • Separate internal from external setup
  • Convert internal setup to external setup
  • Streamline the setup operation


You can use this principle on your farm for jobs such as

  • Removing the combine head, moving to next field, and reattaching it
  • Dumping and hauling grain
  • Fueling and servicing equipment
  • Filling sprayers and utility trucks
  • Restocking the service truck
  • Refilling seed with the Bobcat


Kitting is bundling all relevant parts, materials, and information into a single package to be delivered to the point of use (POU) in a process. For example, you can put everything needed for changing oil in the truck in one kit. This will save many steps back and forth to the shop and time spent looking for each item.

These are just a few examples of how you can apply Lean Six Sigma principles in your daily farm operations to save time, money, and frustration. I encourage you to learn more about Lean Six Sigma and discover ways you can use these ideas to your benefit.

If you would like to learn more about management of your farm operation, please contact us at Family Farms, LLC.

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