Process mapping and heritage crafts can teach us much more

Business is all about innovation and improving on an idea. This means mapping a process from start to finish; exploring ways to improve the route to market. In logistics and supply chain terms seek out ways to make supply chains ever better, cheaper and faster. In other words, work out the best route from primary sources to finished goods; carpets from loom to room; dairy products from the cow to the consumer and so on across all sectors.

These days, much of this work is done by sophisticated supply chain modelling and mapping tools using optimisation software. These past few years, we have been working all over the world in places lacking even the most basic connectivity and equipment. This demands a return to basics using shoe leather to walk the talk and map all sorts of processes on the ground. In Zambia: mapping leather from the herd to the hide; in Ghana, linking basket weaving with leather crafts to produce practical bags with strong leather handles and, in South Africa mapping bakery products through the shanty towns.

Here’s an illustration of the type of work this involves from Rushikonda on the coast of Andra Pradesh. Rob Bell was working with MBA students from GITAM Business School and before a workshop on process mapping and supply chains he was taking a stroll along this glorious beach…

Out at sea he saw a vague image of men working on a boat – it made a terrific photo shot from the shore. Over the next few minutes the boat moved closer to the shore; moved up onto the beach itself; the nets were thrown overboard and then, women arrived to segment the fish into size and specie. Soon agents arrived to haggle over price and then, the men came back to move baskets of fish to the road into town and to the fish market. As the process unfolded, Rob took photos and soon the map took shape.

Working with a team of MBA students from GITAM, Rob Bell built up a clear picture of the route to market from the harvest at sea to the home via the fish market in Vizag. Every step was photographed and sequenced for analysis in a workshop to follow. Other processes were mapped for fruit and vegetables; even for a newspaper. Each process was de-constructed and then the hard work started to explore ways in which the process could be improved: steps simplified, combined or eliminated.

This is a BIG deal. Over 5 million people are employed in this type of traditional fishing – generating over 1 per cent of Indian GDP with over 8 million tonnes landed across over 1300 landing stages along the 8,129 kms Indian coastline. Off Rushikonda, the main species are sardine (17 percent); penaeid prawns (7 per cent) and mackerel (5 per cent). Given this context, we started to look more closely. The steps were studied in more depth to look at how quality or freshness could be enhanced – meaning to maximise price and margin as well as minimise waste. For example, the Rushikonda fishing community used thatas or baskets for the fish made out of local grasses. In the market, many were transferred to boxes that were made of plastic foam – a means to conserve the cold.

Looking closer at the photographs, the team noted that these boxes had Red Cross logos on the side – they had been used in the tsunami disaster years before. Here’s where the analysis of the process switches to investment decisions to improve performance and the benefits case to support investment decisions. Other studies focussed on the fishing communities themselves – for example, the boats and mechanisation as well as mending nets and other equipment.

This approach has been used in several locations. In Tamil Nadu, the work switched to ceramics – the use of design techniques with indigenous pottery to increase price and margin; in And in Ghana, there are plans to map the fishing communities along the Volta to maximise revenues, minimise waste and improve the route to market.

Rob Bell is working with David Murden, And Albert Foundation, on Direct (as opposed to Fair Trade) projects. This deals with sourcing products from a specific farm or supplier and working with them directly to improve quality and design. David has done a lot of work in Ghana – including work with the traditional fishing industry. We plan to pull together work on fishing in India; Africa and Latin America to explore the nature of these communities who make their living from ploughing the sea. Perhaps there is a wider study to relate and contrast this with communities across Europe. For example, Hull, Grimsby and Bremerhaven all had major deep sea fishing employment. A study in the 1950s highlighted that over 20 per cent of Hull’s population worked in the fishing industry. Today there is nothing. Fishing is a signficant industry and someone needs to join the dots of heritage and modern day practice. After all, these days, fishing is a major source of slavery and appalling working practices. Let’s not forget that this was exactly what people like Lil Biloca fought for back in the 1960s in Hull. See Brian Lavery’s Headscarf Revolutionaries. This is a BIG topic…

Rob Bell was in Kurdistan recently exploring the potential to map the traditional carpet weavers from loom to rooms across the developed world. This is a multi-billion dollar industry so lucrative that the Chinese have started to copy traditional designs on industrial looms to build market share. As with so many crafts, this is catastrophic for many indigenous craft communities and, if this is not monitored and capacity not bolstered can destroy centuries of tradition and livelihoods in rural areas.

Craft production helps people in subsistence economies generate cash. If the route to market breaks down then diversity is dealt a fresh blow. More posts will deal with this across a range of traditional industries. For now, Transformational Logistics argues for more work across many traditional crafts to learn the process mapping techniques in challenging circumstances and, to explore ways to innovate. When we reviewed the work in Rushikonda, the team explored ways in which mobile phones could be used to aggregate demand and supply; in Zambia, work with herdsmen explored ways to improve hide yield through branding techniques and, we are working with the And Albert Foundation to explore ways in which local crafts along the Volta can be improved and supply chains can evolve to become inclusive value streams.

Rob Bell wishes to thank G, Sanjusha; Praveen Kumar Naidu; GVK Sandeep; MSP Rani and Priyaparna Majumdar for their hard work in developing the Rushikonda Case Study. It was fun!



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2 Responses to Process mapping and heritage crafts can teach us much more

  1. Andrew Guild says:

    Sounds like interesting work. You guys must find some very eye opening opportunities for improvement as you map out a supply chain.

  2. Great idea simply old traditional logistics work but in new trendy look.

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