Article Revised: March 28, 2019
SMEs (small and medium enterprises) in developing countries are often characterized by lower productivity and higher operating costs than their larger competitors, making it difficult for them to compete. Addressing these issues can make SMEs appealing potential suppliers to international value chains and establish them as competitive exporters. Thanks to Lean Six Sigma Training, several Kenyan SMEs have been able to improve productivity, cut operating costs, and gain a greater share of the market.
The effort to introduce lean practices to Kenyan SMEs was spearheaded by the International Trade Centre (ITC) and Bosch, the German engineering and electronics company. The Kenya Institute of Supplies Management (KISM) also participated in the training. From June 2014 until January 2015, ITC and Bosch provided Lean Six Sigma training to representatives from KISM and three Kenyan agri-food SMEs, which are each in turn supplied by hundreds of small-scale producers. Participants learned to analyze manufacturing, logistics, and supply chain processes and seek out ways to improve inefficiencies.
Special attention was given to the point that developing lean processes does not have to be costly. Trainees were taught to identify solutions that did not involve purchasing expensive new equipment and were encouraged to do more with less.
The results of the training and subsequent implementation of Lean Six Sigma methods have been overwhelmingly positive. Mace Foods, one of the participating SMEs, recorded a 92% increase in the rate employees package vegetables for export to Europe. They have also dropped their number of defective products to nearly zero and have improved order lead time from more than four days to less than a day – even with increased orders and sales!
Another participating SME, Stawi Foods and Fruits, saw a dramatic increase in productivity by making a small change to their flour packaging process. Simply introducing a standard one kilo scoop decreased the time needed to fill a one kilo packet of flour from one minute to thirty seconds and the company ultimately dropped their lead time from seven days to one day.
The third SME, Greenforest Foods, also found a new way to approach packaging and saw a 28% increase in production. Before Lean Six Sigma training, workers had to scoop honey from buckets into individual jars and then weigh each jar until the quantity was correct. After training, new buckets with simple gauges and taps were introduced that allowed workers to fill jars from the tap while weighing them. Employees saved time and effort and order lead time was cut in half!
Representatives from KISM who participated in the lean training will now train and advise other businesses, multiplying lean methodology based improvements among other SMEs in Kenya.
The dramatic results in Kenya prove that Lean Six Sigma training can benefit any business, large or small.