The methods and tools of operational excellence are powerful. Everyone who used them knows it. I recently discovered an original and relevant use of these tools for the improvement of living conditions in developing countries.
A little history
When the Americans worked with the Japanese, after the Second World War, to revive the Japanese economy, the population was extremely poor and rural. The manufacturing tools were successfully deployed to many Japanese villagers, who worked mainly in agriculture or handicrafts.
The Japanese have quickly become experts in continuous improvement (Kaizen), and it is through JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, that these methods of operational excellence are now deployed in other countries, such as China, Ethiopia, Costa Rica or Madagascar.
Improvement of rural living conditions
This practice is opposed to rural development, since it aims to make people autonomous. According to the principle that it is better to learn to fish than to give fish, seikatsu kaizen aims to make users autonomous. it’s up to the person who decides and improves his or her life.
The first step is to train a group of villagers in problem solving techniques such as 8D or PDCA. They are learning (again) to find solutions with the available means. They learn to prioritize the problems to start by dealing with the “simplest” and most recurrent, or those that will bring the most benefits. By progressing slowly, they consolidate each problem solving. Then conditions improve, living standards increase and they can afford to solve complex problems or requiring more resources. It is by using several key concepts of Kaizen, that this approach bears fruit: small steps, strength of the group, progressive learning, …
The problems are varied. They may be linked to agricultural or artisanal production, to improve quality or yield. They could be more social, such as the management of violence, corruption or project financing.
To go further:
- Rural development history in Japan: JICA website
- Explication on approach: Vietnamese newspaper
- Background paper on the approach for the World Bank: World Bank website
- %S deployment in Uganda’s hospital: Uganda newspaper
The tools are powerful. You have to learn how to use them, and take the time to close the problem-solving loops. It is through closure and reflection after the fact that learning is done and continuous improvement.