Kenyan businesses produce more goods faster using lean methods

6 May 2015
ITC News

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Kenya are producing and delivering goods more quickly after introducing lean production methodologies into their processes.

As its name implies, lean methodology is about cutting out inefficiencies and waste in company processes, from production to delivery. This includes looking at factors such as waiting time, over-processing and unnecessary movements.

The economic rewards of lean methods can be seen in the example of Mace Foods, an exporter of dried chilis and vegetables. It increased packing production by 92% after implementing lean strategies in July 2014, with operators packing 46 sachets every hour compared with 24 sachets previously. The number of defective products dropped to zero.

‘It means we have systems in place,’ said Margaret Komen, Mace’s chief executive officer (CEO). ‘I know if an order comes there is a checklist that is followed and the procedure is followed and I’m sure the order is delivered.’

Komen and her factory manager joined the management teams of fellow SMEs Greenforest Foods and Stawi Foods and Fruits in three workshops led by Robert Bosch GmbH, the German multinational engineering and electronics company, and the International Trade Centre (ITC) between June 2014 and January 2015. The object was to learn to analyse processes, recognize areas for improvement and make appropriate adjustments.

‘Lean looks at how to improve your processes without investing huge amounts of machinery or equipment to improve productivity,’ said Hong Siew Lim, programme manager of the ITC Modular Learning System in Supply Chain Management. ‘It’s about looking at how to reduce bottlenecks, simplifying processes or even reducing duplication or unnecessary waiting time.’

For example, using buckets with gauges rather than scoops to fill honey jars reduces motion and speeds up packaging. Setting up controlled and defined stock levels enables faster delivery to customers. Rearranging a factory layout to reduce the effort needed to transport goods results in increased efficiency.


For Mace Foods, order lead time – measured from when an order is received until a product is dispatched – for dried chilis and vegetables dropped from more than four days to less than a day while the number of orders and sales increased. The supermarket chain Nakumatt began placing orders in December.

The benefits of lean methodology extended to honey-packaging company Greenforest Foods, which improved packing production by 28%. Operators began packing nearly 10 one-kilogram cartons every hour compared with just over seven cartons previously. The order lead time dropped from 13 hours to 7.3 hours.

For its part, Stawi Foods and Fruits, a food-processing company specializing in porridge flours, slashed lead time from seven days to one day after establishing controlled stock levels. The time required for an operator to fill a one-kilogram packet of flour decreased from one minute to 30 seconds after the introduction of a standard one-kilo scoop.

‘The SMEs take complete ownership of the measures that we define in the workshops,’ said Georg Nicola, the Bosch project leader. ‘We teach some methods, but then the participants take over and apply them to their own environment. We go together on the shop floor and actually practice these methods, so it helps them to identify potential to improve their processes and reduce waste, as well.’


Through participation in the workshops, representatives of the Kenya Institute of Supplies Management (KISM) developed the capacity to train and advise businesses on lean improvements in their production and order-fulfillment processes. It will serve as a multiplier of lean improvements for SMEs there.

‘Every large corporation was an SME at one point or another,’ said Hedwig Nyalwal, CEO of KISM. ‘So we are optimistic that the SMEs that are participating in this now will grow and continue to practise the lean techniques and perfect them. We’ll be there to work with them.’

Bosch and ITC partnered with KISM and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany to organize the workshops as part of the ITC ‘Promoting Intraregional Trade in Eastern Africa’ project in Kenya, which is funded by the Government of Finland and contributions in kind from Bosch.

Bosch and ITC plan to offer this training in other countries while working with local partners to ensure continuous improvement in processes and increased competitiveness of SMEs.