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September 7, 2021

Four steps to improve fish feeding processes that deliver instant results

By Mattis N. Segerberg, Feeding Specialist, Bluegrove

The feed that fish is fed constitutes perhaps the most important process in the aquaculture industry, at least with regards to creating value. Value is generally measured by outcomes such as the weight of feed required to produce a set weight of fish.

Mattis N. Segerberg

Mattis N. Segerberg

Good outcomes can come about in two ways; hard work or efficient processes. In the past, feeders would rely a bit on both, but as feeding becomes increasingly centralized the processes matter the most.

Good results are not a good measure of great leadership. Many feed central managers are nevertheless stuck in what we call a ‘leadership trap’, where they focus solely on the results without considering how the results were achieved. For this reason, they are often unable to further improve the outcomes.

Better outcomes come about as a result of better feeding processes that facilitate outstanding feeder performances. It does not work the other way around. Good results do not create good processes.

Feed central managers should therefore change their mindset and ask themselves why they do what they do. By taking four steps over a period of two weeks, they will discover processes that will help them develop a deep understanding of feeding tasks, and they will develop an ability to measure underlying processes and methods that drive the performance of feeders.

Step 1 Break down the feeding process
Managers must divide the feeding strategy and feeding process into measurable and understandable steps that help them understand the set of tactics employed, or rather, the tasks and decisions feeders carry out and make each day. Once they truly understand the processes, they will become better able to create the best possible biological and economical results, such as SGR, FCR or MTB utilization.

They can do this by developing a structured feeding process that makes it easier to ensure the right things are measured and to identify areas where improvements can be made. A four-phase framework will help map the actions and decisions in the feeding process: plan – feed – evaluate/calculate – present/discuss. Most of the feeder’s actions, measures, processes, and decisions fit into one of the four. From here, it is possible to drill deeper into the details.

Step 2 Shift measurements from result-driven to process-driven

Next, drill deeper into the details. Identify a set of meaningful and valuable measures that will help you monitor, understand, manage and improve the process and feeder performances. By understanding what to measure and why, how to measure it and which measures and numbers to use you can evaluate feeding in terms of, say, amount fed or subjective appetite measures.

In our experience, most of the measures used in feed centrals today are result measurements such as SFR, SGR, FCR and amount fed, rather than performance measurements such as number of errors, time spent on improvement, number of right decisions, knowledge sharing and communication efficiency.

By adding more variables that you can measure, you will discover that merely measuring the end results of feeding throughout a production cycle is by default misleading because of the weak cause-effect relationships in the feeding process and production phase. There are just too many variables that you can’t control and calculate – so focus on the thing you can control. And obviously, when you measure more variables, you will discover new things about which ones you can control, and how.

Measuring process efficiency and learning outcomes can be tricky, but valuable. By contrast, if it is easy to count or measure it is probably not that important to do so. There’s a significant difference between doing things right, and doing the right things. Most of us are measuring if subordinates and team members are doing things right – that is, how efficiently they solve specific tasks. If we only measure how good we are at doing things right, we will become even better at exactly that, doing things right. But if we are looking for a change and valuable improvements, we must also ask ourselves whether those tasks are really what people should spend their time doing. Good performance obviously requires both doing the right things, and doing them right.

Step 3 Start training
Pinning pretty process flow charts onto walls, complete with new sets of variables to be measured, will not improve feeders’ performance. Managers must engage with their teams to identify how things can be done differently. A new performance-focused culture must be developed where the focus is on appropriate training that facilities personal growth based on new capabilities.

Leaders must facilitate training that helps teams improve how they carry out specific tasks at work. It helps to practice in the actual working environment, so training on the job is beneficial. Next, encourage peer reviews and learning from peers. Team members should sit down in pairs during feeding sessions at least once a week to discuss and learn from each other. Leaders should also provide regular and timely feedback, and they should seek feedback from the team. They should coach the team members, which means they should listen as well as talk.

Step 4 Use data to analyze performance and further break down your process

Managers must collect data in structured ways, then use and rely on the data as they create foundations for continuous learning and improvement. Use the right data, to answer the right questions. Measure performance progress, feeding progress and results over time.

If consistency between feeders is a part of your feeding strategy, you can use data to look for conflicting patterns and feeding styles between feeders. If rapid intensity changes are a part of your feeding process, you should ask your feeding system supplier for data on feeding intensities, such as the number of changes/min, minimum and maximum intensity over time. Then crunch the data to pull out the statistics.

When you have collected data for some time, you will find that you can break down your feeding process in even more detail, implement new measurements, and continue to improve. It is a virtuous cycle that never stops.

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