Global Lean -- When the Gemba is All Over the World

For many organizations, manufacturing processes were once contained within specific areas and defined locations, and most managers and supervisors could see and observe the entire work area -- the gemba -- by merely taking a walk.

Currently, however, with globalization, many manufacturing processes have been dispersed over thousands of miles, across oceans, and different time zones. Sam Yankelevitch, in his new book -- Global Lean: Seeing the New Waste Rooted in Communication, Distance, and Culture -- demonstrates how to use Lean thinking to uncover and reduce waste in the interactions required in today's global organizations.

During a recent conversation with Sam Yankelevitch, I asked him: "To succeed globally, what are the substantially new obstacles organization now face?"

Here is his response:

Many companies try to copy and paste the success they’ve had in their natural, local environments when they expand their operations internationally. My experience managing global companies, has shown me otherwise and, in my new book, I’ve tried to share some key items companies and their leaders should be aware of to avoid financial losses.

As the title of the book suggests, communication, distance and culture should be taken seriously. Just labeling these factors as “soft” will not make them go away. “Soft” can have very “hard” impact on your execution and results. A positive point is that Lean thinking applies just as well to reducing or removing these obstacles.

Starting with distance, this is a factor that is related to trust and cause and effect. It is hard enough to establish trust with some of the local stakeholders and being physically separated also creates a mental distance. Furthermore, when cause and effect happen with a longer interval,  problems might not be easy to solve because the source is tough to pinpoint.

Culture is, of course, a very abstract topic, but it affects the way your requests and expectations are perceived by someone outside of your normal circle. One point is sure:  “our way” is not always the best way or the only way when dealing with people from a different culture.

And then there’s communication. Distance and culture are of course factors that influence how a message is sent and received. But it is evident that because communication precedes action, it’s best to figure out how to do this effectively across continents to improve your chances of success.

Success in the past can sometimes turn out to be a big obstacle because circumstances that helped and hastened success previously have significantly changed. It's important for leaders to see new situations in a new light and not be trapped by routine.

Here's a short video of Sam Yankelevitch speaking about the topics covered in his new book: