by Jim Huntzinger
(Lean in Zambia – 2013)

In August 2009 and August 2013 my children and I spent two weeks in Zambia, Africa. We were visiting and helping some close family friends that are missionaries. John and Kendra Enright are not typical missionaries. While they do have a very nice training center, the Kafakumba Training Center, which is used for a pastor school, family activities and other community events, the main focus and thrust of their work is setting up indigenous economic development. John has always said the problem with Africa and Africans is that they have been saved, “too many times.” His point is – it is one thing to convert them to Christianity, but when this happens and they simply go back to their life of destitution and witchcraft-culture beliefs – little is accomplished. What they need is a robust economy to take their Christian values and principles to earn a living for themselves, their family, their community and their country. This is exactly what he and Kendra have been doing and have made a very significant impact both spiritually and economically.

John is no stranger to what it takes to make this dramatic culture and economic change in the depths of Africa. His parents were missionaries in Congo (Congo is along the north border of Zambia) and arrived there in 1950. He has spent his entire life living among these people and their culture. He knows it firsthand.

A number of John and Kendra’s economic development projects are manufacturing operations – and this is where I spent a significant amount of time during my 2009 visit. I had been talking with John for several years about implementing lean systems in their manufacturing operations and even had him read several lean books to learn more. I spent much of my time with their bee hive operation – the manufacturing of bee hives.

Changing the Bee Hive Operation

While this operation was deep in the middle of the Zambian bush and it was primitive by western standards – that is: it was housed in a simple building, had simple processes and equipment, and a simple product – but it contained the exact same issues and problems as any manufacturing operation here in the U.S. They naturally were using batch production and always had a shortage of something. They also continued to work so they had lots of inventory of everything except the specific component(s) they needed to finish the product for shipping. They were not fully utilizing their operators’ knowledge and skills to: develop better methods (kaizen) to stabilize the processes, reduce time/waste, or improve quality, particularly decreasing re-work. I saw the exact same thing in the depths of the Dark Continent that I have seen repeatedly in the brightly lit and well-funded plants of the United States. In my work with them I applied the same principles and practices that I would at any manufacturer here in the States.

Well, John and Kendra were back in the States for a couple of weeks in November 2009 and last week I spent some time with them. They gave me an update to the lean progress the bee hive manufacturing has accomplished since my time with it back in August. I had left them with a one page document spelling out basic goals and objectives and a short list of activities for them to do to help move them toward the lean objectives. It was simply one page which summarized what I had explained to them and worked on with them while I was there in August.

For the months prior to my visit the bee hive manufacturing had produced only 3 hives per day, and had accomplished this output inconsistently. Upon my discussion with John last week, he informed me that they were now consistently producing 55 bee hives a day and were also using less people. I was certainly pleasantly surprised. They had exceeded my expectations. Their output increased by 2200 percent. And they were on schedule to meet a production order they had to complete by the end of this year. They were nowhere near on track to meet this order when I was there in August.

My children and I returned to Zambia in August 2013. The bee hive operation had been moved to another location so they took advantage of the move to change the layout in a more favorable flow orientation. They had implemented a form of “fake flow.” Fake flow is a very common step for firms during the implementation process. It is not one-piece flow, but it is a very good step in the right direction. But with the fake flow layout they are consistently getting out 100 bee hives a day.

They still have much work to do to continue moving forward with their bee hive production, and to integrate these methods and thinking into their other manufacturing operations. But they do plan to do it. We laid out a plan to move them a few steps closer to one-piece flow while integrating the raw lumber saw mill and increasing their daily output to 200 bee hives per day with a substantial increase in productivity – output per person.

As of November 2013 John informed me that the beehive operation upon additional improvements has now achieved less inventory, especially finished goods, and are consistently producing 200 hives per day with increased production planned.

Kaizen in the Door and Window Operation

During our August 2013 visit to Zambia I also spent time helping to map out a plan to begin the process of developing flow in the door and window manufacturing operation. Over the past 3 years, significant work had been accomplished in the “Woodshop” (the name they use for the door and window operation). Bill Bausen, a former Delphi engineer who, with his wife, are spending several years at Kafakumba helping out, had worked diligently to get the woodshop operating completely under the supervision of the local Zambians. He had successfully achieved this and the Woodshop has been running under the Zambian supervisors for a year upon our arrival there. This is truly a miracle in and of itself.

Working with Bill, we mapped out a strategy for him to use with the management of the woodshop to systematically develop flow through the operation while developing the supervisors and operators in the techniques. This plan will develop the people with both the techniques of flow; and observing, analyzing, and prioritizing the obstacles to achieve the changes through problem-solving. The woodshop is very excited about the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Job Instruction Training

Also during the first week of our visit in August 2013 I held Job Instruction training for 8 Zambians in supervisory roles from a variety of the operations and businesses at Kafakumba. Fish farming, banana, moringa, and aloe vera plantations, bee hive manufacturing, door and window manufacturing were all represented in the JI class.

The class was wonderful with all eagerly participating, engaging and learning how to breakdown jobs and instruct others on jobs. In fact, the sample jobs they brought from their respective work were some of the best examples that I had ever had in a class. From collecting eggs from a fish’s mouth, assembly of a door, to extracting the pulp from an aloe vera leaf. If they apply what they learned and demonstrated during the class they should make excellent progress in their operations.

Other Activities

We did also get to see other wonderful sights of Zambia and Botswana. We spent several days driving to Livingston, Zambia to see Victoria Falls and also into Botswana to visit the Chobe Game Preserve. The natural beauty and wonder of the Falls and wildlife was nothing less than stunning. The photos we took of Victoria Falls come nowhere close of capturing the image of what we saw firsthand. We also were only “feet” away from crocs, hippos, elephants, leopards, and scores of giraffes, cape buffaloes, and a variety of antelope during our day in the park and on the river. The only minor casualty was the night my kids ran across a hippo that had wondered into our bush camp. Hippos are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa, and this one was grazing next to the “Beware of Hippos” sign posted in the camp when my kids came across it.

Most Americans enjoy seeing others succeed – seeing others less fortunate raise their standard of living, their level of knowledge and skills, and contribute positively to their community. Our greatest contribution is to help other cultures succeed using the same principles that have made the Great Experiment the most successful civilization in history. I got to witness the beginning of this same seed being planted, and continue to help it forward. My hope upon my departure was that I will continue to see this seed grow into a small sapling on our next visit.