Africa’s first Lean Management conference in more than six years kicks off at Cape Town’s International Convention Centre next month, with the backing of business leaders Old Mutual and De Beers.

According to the organiser Lean Management, which was initially developed by Toyota for the automotive industry, is now forging ahead globally in areas as diverse as construction and health care.
“It’s been embraced by companies like Dell Computers and Boeing, and is gaining devotees in service organisations, manufacturing businesses, logistics companies and supply chains,” comments conference chair Professor Norman Faull, of the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business.
Lean Summit Africa lead sponsor De Beers embarked on its Lean journey two years ago. David Noko managing director of De Beers Consolidated Mines elaborates: “We have experienced first hand over the last decade the harsh realities of global competitiveness and business complacency in industry. The biggest challenge we face as a country and continent is competing globally. The last few decades have seen us trailing the rest of the world in productivity, which directly impacts on our ability to compete and grow and be counted. Two years De Beers decided to build our Continuous Business Improvement drive on the foundation offered by the robust principles the Lean Philosophy is based on.
”The company is seeing its first successes in achieving benchmarks necessary to ensure we can grow our diamond business into the decades that lie ahead,” Noko says. “We are realising a national ambition of mining being a ‘sunrise industry’ not a ‘sunset’ one as some predicted at the beginning of the decade.”
Lean was originally an assembly-line manufacturing methodology developed by Toyota for the manufacture of automobiles. Its goal is described as "to get the right things to the right place at the right time, the first time, while minimizing waste and being open to change".
The engineer who is credited with developing the principles of Lean production discovered that in addition to eliminating waste, his methodology led to improved product flow and better quality. Toyota’s 2006 results – a profit of $11,6-billion with a year-end market capitalization of some $240-billion, which is greater than that of General Motors, Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, Honda and Nissan combined – bear testimony to the value of Lean thinking.
“De Beers’ approach is being designed to offer simple and fit-for-purpose solutions to assist all aspects of our core business to grow towards excellence in a standardised, logical and structured way,” explains Matt van Wyk, Continuous Business Improvement Leader.
“Our commitment to Lean is not only to make De Beers all it can be in South Africa, but we also believe that Lean, as the foundation to Continuous Business Improvement, is a very important ingredient in making South Africa all it can be in the global context. By sponsoring the Lean Summit Africa the company is playing a small part in improving South Africa's productivity. It’s creating a platform to bring together some of the greatest minds in Lean Thinking, offering delegates an opportunity to experience first hand the difference Lean has made globally across many industries over the last few decades.”
Van Wyk says De Beers is proud of the progress that Lean has achieved at its operations to date, increasing productivity in a number of simple, sustainable ways.
Rose Keanly, MD at OMSTA (Old Mutual Service, Technology and Administration) South Africa, believes the Lean Summit Africa has enormous significance.
“It puts South Africa on the international map of countries where Lean is being used in a variety of different ways and where its future potential is strongly recognised. This event brings the top international Lean minds and practitioners to South Africa, and will hopefully ignite a new wave of enthusiasm to broaden the application of Lean. It will also showcase Lean progress in South Africa and create a strong community of Lean thinkers,” Keanly says.
“Old Mutual has been utilising Lean principles and the Lean management approach for a few years. We firmly believe that Lean has wider application beyond business, and that there is a real role for Lean in dealing with South Africa and the continent's social challenges. We hope this summit will spark interest and commitment in this regard.”
The Lean Summit Africa 2007 takes place from 26 to 28 September at Cape Town’s International Convention Centre.