The path to a learning organization in Uganda begins with visual management

Lean IT experts Steve Bell and Karen Whitley Bell provided some pro-bono work to help the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Grameen Foundation in Uganda scale a successful innovation to other developing countries in Africa.

The innovation was called the Community Knowledge Worker Program (CKW), and it involved hiring locals with knowledge of farming and customs, and equipped them with specially programmed smartphones to visit rural farmers, where they shared information to help these farmers optimize crop yields and sales value.

In order to scale this program, they needed to make it repeatable across different cultures and governments.

A process mapping event was organized with the CKW team and the Information Technology (IT) team, but the IT team did not show up due to resource constraints to keep the existing operation up and running. The team proceeded without them.

They taught the team about the following Lean concepts: disciplined problem solving, stand-up rituals/meetings or daily huddles, Agile, Scrum, and visualization tools like kanban and value stream mapping.

After a few months, productivity was up, waste was down, processes were continuing to be refined and improved, standards were being prepared for roll-out in the next wave of countries, and even the IT team was starting to get more engaged. They were able to see the work visually, and that increased collaboration even when they weren’t part of the original mapping event.

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