Landmark institute for lean operations a first for Africa

26 October 2004

A pioneering institute has been launched to spread the knowledge and practice of the lean approach to operations. The Lean Institute Africa (LIA), a partnership between the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB) and global lean consulting firm Competitive Capabilities International, is set to spread the benefits of the lean approach throughout the country.

"This is a first for the African continent and we are on a mission to spread the word on the efficiencies a lean approach can bring to a business and the tools to achieve this," said Professor Norman Faull, director of the institute at the GSB.

The lean approach is an integrated set of industrial principles and methods that grew out of a study of the Japanese automobile industry and has been developed into a powerful set of tools that is revolutionising the manufacturing and other sectors across the globe. As its name suggests, it enables companies to reduce waste and costs, but at the same time increase standards and productivity.

The tools of lean operations are to be offered initially through a rigorous two-day programme that will, for the next twelve months, travel to the country's four major cities, starting with Port Elizabeth this month, before heading to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban next year.

"Port Elizabeth, the heart of the vehicle and parts manufacturing sector in South Africa, is the perfect place to begin a programme of this nature. While some of these manufacturers know of these techniques, the use of lean operations is patchy at best in the sector - it is really important that these companies build their capacity in this regard as it can have a positive effect on the South African economy," said Faull.

Far from being a once-off programme, the LIA has committed itself to a long-term rollout of lean tools. Individuals that come to the course for the first time will be able to return the next year to receive more advanced techniques.

"We want to create a growing community of people skilled in using these tools. In order to do this we have committed ourselves to helping companies to develop their staff over time," says Faull.

Faull believes it is not only the manufacturing sector that can benefit from lean operations. "There have been some remarkable results, both locally and internationally, of how lean practices can transform organisations in other sectors, most notably the health sector. In the past year, a study conducted at St Luke's Hospice in Cape Town demonstrated the valuable difference lean operations can make in the health sector in South Africa."

The tools of the lean approach were developed and honed by Dan Jones of the Lean Enterprise Academy in the UK and Jim Womack of the US based Lean Enterprise Institute, both of whom have become renowned worldwide through their best-sellers on lean knowledge and practice.

According to Faull, the LIA will build on the existing links with these leaders in the field. For more information on the LIA, contact Junita Abrahams on (021) 406 1323 or e-mail

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