LEAN MANAGEMENT, A MANUFACTURING SECTOR TOOL derived from the Toyota Production System, focuses on the reduction of waste, inventory and customer response time. Applying its principals to service industries such as landscaping and irrigation may seem contradictory. Focusing, however, on the core goal of eliminating wasteful steps from daily operations makes it clear that Lean’s applications extend across sectors.

D. Foley Landscape, Inc., South Walpole, Massachusetts, a division of The Brickman Group, operates by the precepts of “The Working Smarter Training Challenge” program developed by Jim Paluch of JP Horizons.

Dan Ariens, the fourth-generation president of the Ariens Company of Brillion, Wisconsin, and an acknowledged leader in all aspects of Lean Management in our industry, said successful implementation of Lean concepts requires steadfast commitment at every level of the company, regardless of size.

As a commercial landscape maintenance provider, D. Foley Landscape founder Dan Foley said he’s always looking for ways to lower costs and provide leverage for clients.

Foley was able to study both Ariens and Paluch, and understands their excitement about Lean.

After a week-long visit to the Ariens plant in 2005, he became a devotee of Lean and a proponent of using Kaizen. A Japanese word that means ‘improvement’ or ‘change for the better,’ Kaizen usually refers to slow, incremental but constant, positive change.

Foley put Paluch’s “The Working Smarter Training Challenge” program in place in November 2006. “Once we launched our pro gram and it became a 52-week program, employee curiosity then became excitement and there was a tremendous buy-in throughout the company,” Foley said.

Bland Landscaping Company, Inc., Apex, North Carolina, is another company that has successfully launched Lean principles. Matt Bland, the controller and vice president of Bland Landscaping, points out that the Lean model needs to be modified for it to succeed in the service sector.

“We were first introduced to Lean about seven years ago. It applies differently to a service company. In manufacturing, the production line is right in front of the worker and they can watch and modify things very easily and sit there and measure efficiency gains,” he noted. “On the landscaping side, you can’t monitor everything at all times. A lot of the processes we were looking to improve were very difficult to measure. It was a little trickier, but we’re continually improving our processes and the general principles certainly work.”

Often, a common-sense change can be a timesaver. Upon arriving at a jobsite, unload the equipment, and check to see if the mowers and blowers are topped off before you move on the property. In this manner you can avoid wasteful delays that would occur if they run out of fuel during the job. After all, time is money.

Foley said observation is a critical tool in determining if waste elimination has permeated the entire operation. His managers now observe some crews under specific conditions at actual jobsites and make recommendations to modify processes, such as mowing patterns, in order to yield the most efficient use of time at a single site.

In each instance, the companies have cut waste from their processes, improved their operations, enhanced their products and brought added value to their clients—accomplishing this during an economic downturn when customers have leaner wallets and demand more bang for their buck.

“It’s a very difficult mindset and a paradox in many ways. Lean is counter intuitive to the way we’ve been taught,” said Ariens. “The success rate of companies that try Lean is about one in 100. I am convinced the whole mind-set of making the Lean journey is about the CEO driving, leading and encouraging the changes that are necessary. The CEO has to articulate strong cultural ties between the company and its commitment to Lean.”

“The management challenge,” Ariens added, “is that if you really want to get people focused on Lean, one of the commitments management has to make is to not have a reduction in employment because of an improvement in production processes.”

Ariens should know: Since adopting Lean principles in response to a 1999 company fiscal crisis, he’s seen the family business grow its revenues by three and a half times without increasing the work force —enabling the investment of roughly $20 million from cash flow directly back into the company. While that type of success likely exceeds the scope of any landscaping and irrigation outfit, the implications and opportunities are obvious.

Sowing the seeds of interest

“There was an offer to come out and work on a Kaizen,” said Foley. I was president of PLANET back in

2005 and they were writing a book on Lean so we had to commit a week,” he recalled. “I went out and worked on a team that was building snow blowers. It was very eyeopening. We went back to the hotel every night and talked about the things we’d learned. Once you understand the true value of eliminating waste from your operations, it becomes vividly clear that this is the way to go.”

“The delivery of value to our clients and the difference between value and waste is a universal principle that can be applied to any operation,” Foley added.

Bland’s company introduced Lean by using its own storage yard as a visual aid. “We did it first within our own layout in regards to the flow of traffic. It was very visual and we started with basic ideas the employees could understand,” Bland explained. “Some were resistant, but once they got more comfortable with the concepts, they saw the value in it. Then we moved on to buying and sales processes, which are more complicated. We take the time to look at processes and find the most efficient ways. The idea is to prevent defects before they occur,” added Bland.

Practical applications

Talking about Lean theory is one thing, making it work in the real world is quite another. Servicerelated companies are challenged by a wide set of variables, from weather and local traffic patterns to working with sub-contractors and vendors unfamiliar with Lean. Ultimately, it comes down to providing the customer with the best, most efficient outcome.

“The key is that when you completely understand and implement value and understand that everything else is waste, it becomes clearer. The question to ask is: Is the client happy? If not, it’s probably due to waste in the process,” Foley asserted.

...the company has experienced revenue growth without increasing the work force. “We’re working smarter. If we can increase productivity and add one to three percent to the bottom line every year, that’s huge.”

Corporate support in a number of areas (for example, HR) resulting from the merger with The Brickman Group in July 2009 has enabled D. Foley Landscaping to further sharpen its focus on operations. “The resources they offer take away so many distractions that detract from adding value to your clients and your employees. Now we have more time to get better. Ultimately we’ll be better and more lean,” Foley predicted.

The company conducts Kaizens on topics such as the weekly servicing of its fleet, mulching procedures, the payroll process, landscape renewal and fleet fueling.

“The culture of the organization starts to change as the benchmarks become more definitive and standardized,” Foley said.

At Bland Landscaping, Kaizen events are part and parcel of the company culture with department managers driving the process. First-time events may take up to a week to identify a problem, and revisions are continually revisited and monitored to determine if a process is still working.

“We began Lean in administration by first documenting each process we were looking to improve using flow charts with detailed text to support the chart,” said Bland. “We noted measurable improvements in time management and job efficiency. We have found that we can make many of the jobs easier for our staff and less stressful when they have input.”

A company Kaizen event devoted to fuel efficiency held four years ago changed the company’s field operations as it:

• Initiated a fuel awareness program aimed at conservation;

• Transitioned to diesel vehicles for towing. The gain in miles per gallon outweighed the cost of diesel fuel and upfront cost of the trucks;

• Replaced backpack blowers with more efficient equipment, yielding a fuel savings over 18 months that paid for the machines;

• Implemented GPS to slow down vehicles and track idle time as fuel conservation measures;

• Switched sales cars to more fuelefficient Mini Coopers.

Meanwhile, the implementation of technology in the field has enhanced communication with the main office and reduced the time needed to address and solve problems. “I don’t think you can put a number on (the amount of time saved)—however, we definitely have gains in efficiencies and how employees are utilizing their time,” Bland said.

Foley, on the other hand, said he was stunned at the savings realized by his company. “The savings continue forever when you adhere to the standards. We found that, in the majority of our processes, we typically had reduction of steps involved and time spent by a minimum of 50 percent and, in one instance, 67 percent. That was shocking to me, just shocking,” he said.

Additionally, the company has experienced revenue growth with out increasing the work force.

“We’re working smarter,” Foley said. “If we can increase productivity and add one to three percent to the bottom line every year, that’s huge.”

Keys to sustainability

Staying the course and discouraging variations to processes used in the field are crucial elements to Lean success. Foley offers an interesting analogy:

“Human beings, by their nature, create variations. Why can the U.S. Army or McDonald’s take teenagers and get them to do more than their parents can? They can because their processes are standardized and they do things the same way every single time, every day. If you train well and have a standard way of doing things, success follows,” he said.

“Improvements aren’t valuable unless you sustain them,” Bland added. “You have to avoid having people revert back to bad habits and you have to constantly revisit what you’re doing. Otherwise Lean won’t work.”

Foley is a staunch advocate of spreading the Lean gospel to receptive companies, especially those up and down the company’s supply chain.

“We share our Lean journey with contractors and we look for vendor partners who are willing to be flexible and deliver materials right to a jobsite. We look for vendors who are willing to bill us more in line with our processes. And we absolutely share our best practices with our clients. We’ve even had one client participate in our ‘Working Smarter’ training channels,” he said.

After all, as Dan Ariens noted, “Lean really seems to be more than a manufacturing principle. It provides the definition for driving waste out of any process.”