A Lean Transformation in the Andes

A social project experience (part 3)

Dionisio and his family live at the Inka Moss plant in Jauja. His six kids, his wife, a nephew and other relatives are originally from a community 3 hours from Jauja. Dionisio has still some own agricultural business there and keeps these roots to the communities. His job is also to manage the relationship to all communities. This is a crucial task because it secures the supply of sufficient moss for Inka Moss. His whole family lives at the plant and it is their life.

…Inka Moss (see part 1) sells moss from the Andes for Orchid growers in the world. As social enterprise, they support with 45% of their revenues the poor Andean communities. And we were called to help with their challenges in terms of product quality and throughput in their plant in Jauja…

The day after we came back from our emotional journey to the Curimarca community (see part 2), we directly started to work in the plant in Jauja and tested some ideas how to improve Inka Moss product quality and their overall production.

Edinson, Dionisio’s oldest son, manages the plant operations in Jauja. In the plant the moss is first dried, then sorted, pressed and packaged. A staff of 14 to 20 employees operate the plant. Edinson lives also at the plant with his wife and a one year old son. The plant is their life and they are striving for improving and coping with the daily challenges. Like in other agricultural businesses they need to cope with weather and varying supply.

It is a very seasonal business. The first half of the year it is hard to get sufficient moss because rain and a difficult Andean region make it hard to collect moss in the communities at altitudes of above 3000m. So, it was a good time for us to help them prepare for the peak time in the second half of the year.

So, now we come as pro bono consultants. What could we do?

We did interviews to understand and we observed the process flow. Finally, we also identified the two main challenges in the plant: product quality in terms of the right package size, keeping delivery dates, and right humidity level of the moss. If the moss is too dry it falls to dust, too wet and it molds during the long transport to customers in Asia. Second, the current production process limits throughput in the plant.

The root cause for the latter are mainly some bottlenecks we identified: besides moss supply, the drying process and for small packages the pressing and packaging process are the bottlenecks in the end-to-end process in the plant. When we entered the plant, we could directly see the piles of inventory:

So far, my experience was more on applying the principles from lean production in software development. It was an interesting experience to bring back lean to production.

Ideation together with the Inka Moss team led to many crazy and some good ideas, we could test during last week’s visit in Jauja together with the team there. I would like to mention a few of them:
1 Removing inventory with a continuous production flow
Simplified transparency
3 Team work

We presented the ideas to the team in the plant and discussed with them whether these make sense and agreed that we were going to test them during the day.

1 Removing inventory

When we proposed this the plant team was easy to convince that a continuous flow without intermediate inventory made sense. We also included controlling the humidity level early in the process. It is too late when the moss is packaged.

To feel it ourselves we also ran through the process we suggested. It was fun for the team to watch us do the work.

2 Simplified transparency

In the plant there is no computer available and internet only via a thin mobile connection. So, how to measure progress and report it to the office in Lima? The timely information is important for not to delay shipment to customers. Exporting moss brings means also many bureaucratic procedures. These and difficult infrastructure can sometimes delay to deliver to customers.

The initial idea from the team in Lima was to build a mobile app. Edinson was asked to enter the data. But the app was not intuitive and easy to handle. Adoption failed. So, we came up with a simplified transparency which also helped all in the plant to see progress. Future will tell us whether this will be adopted. But the feedback from Edinson was promising.

Ernesto, Edinson and Juanjo (from left)

3 Team work

At the beginning, we could feel the skepticism: the gringos, not speaking Spanish came and telling the moss experts what to do. It felt strange but our intuition helped us. We just told them we wanted their opinion and their feedback on our ideas. We want to help them to make their life easier. The ice began to melt.

First, we showed them what happens if the humidity level or the package sizes is not right. They did just not know. The moss molds and if the sizes are not right Inka Moss cannot ship the promised number of packages because they just do not fit in the container.

Quality issues

Then workshop in the factory became fun, we built 3 teams of 2 men and 2 women each and let them test the new process which left out some superfluous steps and removed inventory. They never had such an experience and the test made adoption much more likely.

The team tests a new idea to dry moss

In the end, the skepticism was gone. They loved to try out the new process and made a competition out of it. Before we said good-bye, they wanted lots of selfies and appreciated the day for make their life easier and in parallel solving some business issues.

Can we sustain the changes?

Sustainability of change is usually key to success: here we are lucky: Juanjo who just joined Inka moss will be the change agent and travel to Jauja regularly. He was also instrumental to us. He translated! Our Spanish was just too pocito.

So, Dionisio’s family has grown in Jauja: Juanjo is now part of the Inka Moss family. And we are glad, that we could participate for 4 weeks in this extraordinary adventure. We have been lucky to be able to work with the founder Marco Pinatelli and his Inka Moss family. Roselle Junio, Thomas Madsen and I will forever be grateful for this social project experience. A big thank you to SAP Social Sabbatical. And we hope that our work could contribute a little bit to scale Inka Moss operations and to reach more of the poor Andean communities.

We promise, we will stay in touch…

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