Monday, May 18, 2015

25. Field Notes 2: Lean Possibilities at Rwacof: Downtime and Quality Control

May 18, 2015 -- Kigali, Rwanda

Rwacof is one of the oldest mills in Rwanda. Today they supply Starbucks and many other roasters who want high quality coffees. This company represents the opposite end of the supply chain from farmers in Rwanda's coffee value chain. See info graphic below (courtesy of Huye Mountain).

Downtime: Rwacof has duplicates and multiple duplicates of many machines to make sure they have no downtime. The production manager says their downtime in the past year has been <1% because they have at least one and sometimes 2 back up machines. 

Quality control is an ongoing effort. When they have poor quality cherry at the front end (the raw material)  even their density, size and color sorting machines cannot "clean it up" so they send the coffee to the "hand sorting" room. This is a hall where 600 women (yes 600 and yes all women) sit and pick through coffee all day -- for about a dollar of pay. Raises some questions. Is this the best way to use the firm's resources?*

Lean thinking is all about improving quality and growing organizations. What I have learned is there is no "easy answer" when symptoms such as those above are evident. Careful, participatory waste elimination exercises (involving frontline workers) may prove beneficial. But first, one has to understand management's strategy for the company. Without leadership from the top, lean efforts cannot succeed.

*To learn more about the story of the "coffee sorting ladies" see this article from the New Times of Rwanda, published June 4, 2015:

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