Managing your agribusiness with simple checklists

If yours is a dairy farm, the checklist should be glued to the wall or hang on a clip board from a nail in the animal shed.

Tuesday February 2 2016

Ms Julie Githinji inspects her coffee plants in Nyeri in August, 2015. Coffee farmers are complaining that a good number of diseases led by leaf rust have become resistant to many fungicides in the market. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Ms Julie Githinji inspects her coffee plants in Nyeri in August, 2015. Coffee farmers are complaining that a good number of diseases led by leaf rust have become resistant to many fungicides in the market. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

ByIRENE RIUNGU
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As your agribusiness grows, you must develop scalable (incremental) management and quality control systems.

A management structure must be put in place to ensure accountability against established benchmarks (targets) as well as to make sure quality control of your goods and services remains constant as your business grows.

Therefore, each position’s duties and responsibilities should be defined in writing. An organisational chart should be made and maintained, which clearly defines who is responsible for what, who reports to whom, on what subjects, and how often.

QUALITY CONTROL SYSTEM

You must make sure that the quality of your goods or services is maintained despite the growth.

As such, you must determine what elements should exist in a quality control system and then assign the responsibility of maintaining that quality to someone within your management model or yourself.

A quality control system enables you to ensure your systems work every day.

For every business, quality control will differ. If you operate a greenhouse, the benchmarks may be overall sales as measured against knowledge of the product or responsiveness.

For a dairy farm, one may need to make sure that the work being performed is consistent so that the products leaving the business are perfect, or within measured perfection, for example good quality milk or cheese.

Once established, a manager or management team (this may constitute members of the family), must be specifically assigned to oversee the execution of the system (greenhouse, dairy or poultry farm, whatever is the business for as long it has inputs, a transformative process and predetermined outputs, it is a system). You need to be able to point to one person and say that they are responsible for the quality of your business’ goods or services.

This structure should grow at the same rate as the rest of your business. For instance, let’s say your poultry business originally consisted of two casual workers. Your initial quality control systems can be managed by one of them who reports to you.

If you grow to 10 casual workers responsible for a larger business, it is reasonable to assume you will now need two quality control supervisors. The actual number will vary for every business. It suffices to say that you must know that it has to grow alongside your workforce.

Also within that growth, the added quality control team must have its own division of responsibility with well-defined roles for quality control of the company.

Now that you have created a scalable management model with a defined quality control system, it’s time to execute it to perfection.

It is very effective to use daily and weekly checklists to make sure individuals are performing their assigned tasks in a consistent manner.

A checklist, also known as check sheet, is a simple document that is used for collecting data in real time (as it occurs) and at the location where the data is generated.

If it is a dairy farm, the checklist (see below) should be glued to the wall or hang on a clip board from a nail (best option) in the animal shed.

The checklist is one of the seven basic tools of quality control pioneered by Dr Kaoru Ishikawa, one of the gurus of quality management.

The other six are pareto diagram, cause and effect diagram, control charts, flow charts, histograms and scatter diagrams.

The checklist is typically a blank form that is designed for quick, easy, and efficient recording of the desired information, which can be either quantitative (numbers) or qualitative (colour or gender).

When the information is quantitative, the check sheet is sometimes called a tally sheet.

A defining characteristic of a check sheet is that data is recorded by making marks (checks) on it.

A typical check sheet is divided into regions, and marks made have different significance.

Data is read by observing the location and number of marks on the sheet.

FIVE BASIC TYPES OF CHECK SHEETS

i) CLASSIFICATION CHECK SHEET: A trait such as a defect must be classified into a category. If you just kept track of the total defects, you would know that you had 101 defects.

That is somewhat useful but that, in and of itself, does not provide much insight as to which day is the worst day or which source of defects is in the worst shape.

With a classification check sheet, it provides a visual overview of the problem areas. An example of a classification checklist is given on the left.

ii) DEFECT LOCATION CHECK SHEET: The physical location of a trait is indicated on a picture, or illustration of a part or item being evaluated.

Instead of just keeping track of the number of defects, the defect location check sheet can reveal an area of the product that tends to see most of the defects, say for instance the upper right hand corner.

Once this is known, the team can go back to the process to see what it is about the place that is causing the defects.

In a dairy farm, a cow may have developed sores. A sketch of the cow should be made showing the location of the sores. 

iii) FREQUENCY CHECK SHEET: The presence or absence of a trait or combination of traits is captured in this sheet.

Also, number of occurrences of a trait on a product can be indicated.

For instance, if you just tracked the number of defects, you may not realise that wrong colour has the highest frequency of occurrence.

Furthermore, if wrong colour was not broken down further, you might not realise that green is giving you the most defects.

 iv) MEASUREMENT SCALE CHECK SHEET

This is divided into intervals and measurements, which are indicated by checking an appropriate interval.

For instance, a front-line (the person physically handling the product or directly providing service to the customer) quality control manager may have a daily checklist of five quality control matters to be reviewed on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and so on.

They are responsible on each of those days for performing those tasks and then recording that they have been completed.

The manager above them has his or her own checklist of matters to do, which include checking with the subordinate managers daily to make sure that they performed all of their assigned tasks.

It is a simple structure but vital to making sure the systems that are created are executed.

The person responsible for executing the front-line systems reports to their manager that they have been completed.

That manager then reports to their supervisor that all tasks have, or have not been done as required.

If all works properly, we are only speaking about a few minutes out of your day to deal with the reporting of the underlying systems.

v) CHECK LIST:

The items to be performed are listed so that as each is accomplished, it can be marked as having been completed.

Numbers do not lie. Finally, even when you set up the systems and grow management and quality control, you must always be mindful of the numbers. Numbers don’t lie.

If used properly, they will tell you where additional oversight or changes are needed within your agribusiness to increase efficiency, sales, and quality.

Assume, for instance, that your sales are great. They are growing at an unbelievable pace yet your financial records tell you something is wrong.

That your expenses are outpacing your revenue growth. The numbers don’t lie and they will tell you more about the health of your business than anything else.

What do you do when the numbers tell a story you don’t like? Use them. Use them to determine what the problem is.

Create a system to fix the problem and then assign it to someone to manage and run to perfection 100 per cent of the time.

How to begin? Break down your business into subsystems and for each, assign someone (this someone could be you if the business is small), to be responsible.

They must use checklists which they then forward to you every week.  You scrutinise these filled up lists for variations, then make the decision as the leader on the way forward.

The writer works in the Faculty of Commerce, Management Science department, Egerton University.

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