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Farmers have always been Lean and Agile.

Richard Heath - Monday, June 05, 2017

Once again, farmers are the true innovators in the business world. If you have had even a passing look at the new world of technology companies and start-ups you would have seen lots of language about lean business models and agile technologies. This does not mean that you should be skinny and flexible to work in technology but rather refers to a different way of doing business that is starting to grow in popularity and move into the wider economy.

The Harvard Business Review describes a Lean business model as one that has a focus on experimentation and iterative design rather than elaborate planning and massive investment in fixed and inflexible business plans. Lean businesses also use Agile development techniques which place more importance on individuals and interactions than processes and tools and recognise that responding to change will lead to more successful outcomes that following a plan.

Sound familiar? In many ways Lean and Agile is how farm businesses have always operated.

Farm businesses and business plans are constantly challenged by the environment that they farm in. Months of preparation and planning can be disrupted by a flood at planting time, grazing plans can be made redundant by a bushfire, a hailstorm can completely change the quality of a fruit crop. Farmers have dealt with change and variability since there has been farming, and to use the language of start-ups they deal with it by pivoting or starting another round of iterative development.

The only difference between farm businesses and start-ups are the time scales that are involved. Start-ups work on rapid cycles of product development while farm businesses assess product cycles in terms of seasons or weather events. The philosophy however is the same; whether it is a software start up assessing whether their latest minimum viable product has met customer specifications, or a farmer deciding whether there is enough soil moisture to plant a crop, what is put in front of them is more important than what is in a plan.

Lean and Agile techniques are now being taught widely in business schools around the globe. Perhaps these business schools should be calling on the experience of farmers for practical advice on how to make them work. 
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