Tigrai Onlne - February 05, 2014
By: Desta, Asayehgn, Sarlo Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Economic Development, Dominican University of California; and Hadush Berhe Asgedom, lecturer, Industrial Engineering Program; Alula Gebresas, Lecturer, Industrial Engineering Program; and Mengstu Asheber, Lecturer, Industrial Engineering Program, Makelle University, Tigrai, Ethiopia.
From the ashes of the Second World War, Japan through its culturally embedded innovative management system has succeeded in rebuilding an economy that is emulated by the community of nations (Waheed, etal., 2010). For example, in the 1980s, the manufacturing industry in Japan showed a significant growth through the adoption of the kaizen process of management. The key elements of the Japanese management system and the kaizen strategy were embedded to achieve a never-ending journey towards increasing productivity, and efficiency, and to foster the spirit of quality improvement. In order to stay competitive in an increasingly global marketplace with increasing customer demands, by following Japan’s example, a number of Ethiopian-based manufacturing companies are using the kaizen management approach to lower costs of production, minimize waste, improve productivity, boost quality, and achieve sustainability.
Three pilot companies (Mesfin Industrial Engineering, the Almeda Textile Factory, and the Sheba Leather Industry) in Northern Ethiopia that have embarked on the kaizen management strategy were analyzed using the SWOT analysis to understand their strengths and weaknesses, uncover opportunities open to them, and eliminate threats that they were facing. Then, their implementation of the kaizen strategy was assessed to see if the management and workers were passionately committed to undertaking the kaizen management philosophy. The companies were scrutinized to follow step-by-step the kaizen process-oriented methodologies. Were they physically implementing the kaizen strategies to re-engineer themselves and improve the culture and leadership process? Was their level of productivity meeting the needs of domestic and global customers?
Based on interviews, observations, and the responses given to the questionnaires administered to a sample of the employees of the three pilot companies, it was found that the respondents didn’t have the full capacity to accept the kaizen management system. If they had for example, by forming a kaizen cross functional teamwork approach, workers could have been empowered to challenge the status quo, gathering the most conspicuous internal and external factors that could be become part of the work ethics necessary for continuous improvement of productivity. Instead, it was found that some of the executive managers of the three pilot companies were themselves not committed to the kaizen teamwork because they didn’t usually participate nor did they allow the shop floor workers or operators to participate in team group work.
In addition, the tools and techniques used by the pilot companies did not create lean enterprises that could have minimized waste. This might be because the internal and external training given to the employees was designed for very short periods of time and some of the managers and employees of the pilot companies were not yet fully committed to the kaizen management philosophy. Despite these weaknesses, however, it can be appreciated that though only partially committed to the kaizen management philosophy, the three pilot companies have marginally reduced the costs of production, improved quality, reduced lead time, improved customer’s satisfaction and have tailored themselves to achieving action plans for the three kaizen steps (out of 5S), those of housecleaning strategies: sorting, setting, and shining but have yet to standardize and ultimately clean their inputs.
Thus the policy option that could emerge from this study is that before launching the kaizen strategy for improvement, firms need to take the time to review their performance and determine their strengths and weaknesses. In short, the three pilot companies in Northern Ethiopia need to assess carefully whether or not: 1) there is a synergistic relationship between the Japanese kaizen quality initiatives and the business environment of the firms, 2) they can modify and appropriately design the kaizen management system to suit the diversity of practical circumstances and conditions of the pilot firms, and adapt it to fit the companies’ working cultures, 3) the workers of the firms are disciplined and motivated enough to go beyond formal job requirements and effectively participate in process improvement, 4) the firms’ employees are ready to utilize the kaizen process and correct problems at the source, and 5) the companies are ready to improve their products and services on a continuing basis to meet customer’s demand.
In addition to hiring experienced executives and furnishing incentives to employees, the employees of the enterprises need to be given intensive training so that they become committed to the kaizen standards that will enable their companies to optimize operations, save cost, improve profits, and enhance customer satisfaction (See Desta, 2012).