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Lean production constitutes a language, which may be unfamiliar to many people. Much of this language is Japanese. In our work we have found a fairly even split between people who like the Japanese terms and others who prefer their English equivalents. We have developed the following glossary to accommodate both groups.

Japanese words tend to be visual and metaphorical. Often there is no English equivalent. We have tried to provide the nearest equivalent English term, as well as, the most vivid metaphor to convey the meaning as closely as possible.

Search Alphabetically: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
5 S System:
A system of workplace standardization and organization. The 5 S's are: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. Their Japanese equivalents are Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke.
4 M's: Man/Woman, Machine, Method, and Material.
A3 Thinking: Applying PDCA, basic root cause and Pareto analysis to support planning and improvement in the organization. A3 Thinking boils things down to their essence and tells the story of the current and future state of an organization on one page.
Andon: A line stop; typically a cord that a worker can pull to stop the assembly line when he or she detects a defect; an example of jidoka.
Countermeasure: Refers to the give and take required to achieve focus and alignment between and among management levels during the planning process. Catchball is a “scrubbing” process that helps us develop a shared understanding of what’s real.
Current-State Map: A material and information flow map that illustrates all the steps currently required to deliver a product or service to the customer.
Downstream Operations:

All processes, areas and customers “downstream” of where we are.

Five Why Analysis: Systemic questioning technique to search for the root causes of a problem. The key is to continue asking and answering the new layer of questions that arise. Five Why analysis is best performed in a team.
Flow: How items or people move from the start to the end of a process.
Future-State Map: A material and information flow map that illustrates our improved image of the steps required to deliver a product or service to the customer.
Grasp the Situation (GTS): A continuous process of refinement that informs each PDCA step. GTS means going to see the actual condition in the gemba, connecting with the people there, and engaging both our Left and Right brains. The outcome of GTS is a clear understanding of the problem.
Gemba: The real place; the specific place. Usually means the shop floor and other areas where work is done.
Genchi Genbutsu: Go see; go to the real place and see what is actually happening.
Hansei: “Self-reflection” is a central idea in Japanese culture. Hansei entails sincerely acknowledging mistakes and weaknesses, and committing to improvement
High-Value Activities:

Activities whose value to the customer greatly exceeds their cost.

Hoshin Planning: See Hoshin Kanri.
Hoshin Kanri: Toyota's planning and execution system; metaphorical meanings include "Ship in a storm going in the right direction" and "compass"; Also known as Policy Deployment and Hoshin Planning .

House of Lean Production:

House of Lean Production

An image of the Lean Production System, as illustrated in the book Lean Production Simplified (Productivity Press, New York 2007) by Pascal Dennis

Just In Time (JIT): Producing the right item at the right time in the right quantity. One of the pillars of the Lean Production System.
Jidoka: Providing machines and operators the ability to detect abnormalities and immediately stop work. Jidoka allows us to build quality into each process and to free up people from the need to “watch” machines. Examples include the andon and pokayoke; also known as "autonomation with a human touch" at Toyota. One of the pillars of the Lean Production System.

Literally, “self-study”. A strategy-oriented management-driven improvement activity that typically involves autonomous study groups learning, practicing and sharing insights on the front line.

Kaizen:  A continual improvement in personal life, home life, social life and working life. In the workplace Kaizen means continuing improvement involving everyone regardless of position.
Kaizen Circle Activity (KCA): A small group of team members (usually six to eight participates) brought together to solve a problem or improve a situation using the scientific methods and the thinking and tools of the Lean Business System.
Kamishibai: Literally “paper drama”, is a form of storytelling that originated in Japanese Buddhist temples in the 12th century. As part of the Toyota production system, a kamishibai board is a visual control that supports status checking within a manufacturing or business process.
Kanban: A small sign or "sign board", an instruction to produce or supply something; usually a card; a central element of the Just in Time system.
Lean Business System: The business system developed by Toyota and other leading organizations over the past 60 years. It comprises three sub-systems: Lean Product Develop, Lean Production and Lean Sales & Marketing.
Lean Thinking:

A way of thinking based on the principles of the Lean Business System. Lean thinkers seek to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Lean thinking means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.

A lean organization understands customer value and focuses its key processes to continuously increase it. The ultimate goal is to provide perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste. Lean thinking changes the focus of management from optimizing separate technologies, assets, and vertical departments to optimizing the flow of products and services through entire value streams that flow horizontally across technologies, assets, and departments to customers.

Management by Objectives: The foundation of Hoshin Kanri; introduced by Peter Drucker in his 1954 book, The Practice of Management.
Mental Models: One’s expectations about how the world works based on temperament, upbringing and experience. The glasses we all wear which filter, and often distort, reality.

Non-value-adding work, or waste. Any activity for which the customer is not willing to pay.


“Hard to do” and can be caused by variations in production, poor job design or ergonomics, poor part fit, inadequate tools or jigs, unclear specifications, etc.

Nemawashi: to prepare a tree for transplanting; refers to the formal and informal method of gaining consensus prior to the implementation of a hoshin or plan.
The New Seven: New quality management tools developed in the US and Japan in the 1970's. They include affinity diagrams, tree diagrams, fault tree analysis, matrices, PDCP charts, Gantt charts, and interrelationship digrams.
PDCA: The Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle developed by Walter Shewhart in the 1930's and refined by W. Edwards Deming.

Plan For Every Part (PFEP):

Normally, a spreadsheet or database that supports accurate and controlled inventory reduction. To create the PFEP, we need to gather essential information on every part number entering a plant or site, such as the part's specifications, supplier, location of supplier, rate of usage, storage locations, point of use, container size, as well as other key data. PFEP is the foundation for the continuous improvement of the material-handling system.

Poka-yoke: A device that eliminates the possibility of a defect or an error.

Problem Solving Funnel:

Problem Solving Funnel

An image of the Lean problem solving process, as illustrated in the book Lean Production Simplified (Productivity Press, New York 2007) by Pascal Dennis

Pull System: Manufacturing or service provision system in which production/provision is based on actual daily demand and information flows from the customer to management in a direction opposite to material flow.
Push System: Manufacturing or service provision system in which production/provision is based on a projected production plan and information flows from management to the customer in the same direction in which the materials flow.
The Q Seven: The seven statistical tools that have been the cornerstone of quality management. They include the flow chart, run charts, histogram, checksheet, Pareto analysis, control chart, and fishbone diagram. Some people also include the scatter diagram.
Root Cause: The source of an event, failure or defect. Root causes invariably fall into one of three categories: 1) inadequate standard, 2) Inadequate adherence to standard, or 3) Inadequate system.
Scientific Method:

A method of investigation involving observation and theory to test scientific hypotheses. In the Lean Business System, the scientific method is expressed as PDCA, is a method for making hypotheses, testing them empirically, and drawing conclusions.

SMART Goals: Simple, measurable, achievable, reasonable, and trackable.

The quality of being firm and steadfast. Stability in a production or business process starts with standardized work, the 5 S system or workplace organization, and visual management. A core Lean principle is that improvement is impossible without stability in the 4M’s -- Manpower, Machinery, Materials and Methods.

Standardized Work:

The optimal combination of workers, machines and materials so as to meet our safety, quality and delivery objectives every time. Standardized work entails defining work content, sequence, timing and expected outcome.

Strategy Deployment: See Hoshin Kanri.

A carefully managed amount of inventory within a value stream to support flow and pull.

Supermarkets comprise inventory buffers that can contain either finished items or work-in-process. They can be used to manage finished goods inventories, to connect processes that cannot flow because of differences in cycle time or geography, and to connect processes that are shared by multiple value streams.

System: An organized set of parts with a clearly defined goal. For example, a car is a system whose purpose is motive force. The parts of the car system comprise the following parts (or subsystems): fuel, oil, brake, chassis etc.
Systems Thinking:

The ability to think in terms of systems, and knowing how to lead systems.

Takt Time:

The rate at which our product or service needs to leave the end of our “line” to meet customer demand.The formula is:

Takt = Daily operating time Required quantity per day.

Total Productive Maintenance: An integrated set of activities aimed at maximizing equipment effectiveness by involving everyone in all departments at all levels, typically through small group activities. TPM usually entails implementing the 5 S System, measuring the six big losses, prioritizing problems, and applying problem solving with the goal of achieving Zero breakdowns.

Activity that the customer is willing to pay for. Anything that positively changes the form, fit or function of a product or service.

Visual Management: Making the normal and abnormal states easy to see. Visual management entailsseeing, acting, and knowing as a group.
Value Stream Mapping: A tool used to analyze the flow of materials and information currently required to bring a product or service to a consumer. Value stream mapping helps to show our current condition and identify improvement opportunities. VSM is a language comprising of symbols.
Warm Heart Principle: Be hard on the problem, easy on the people. Recognize that most people want to do the right thing and are doing their best. Understand that most of the time, the problem is in the management system -- and not the people.
Waste: Non-value-add activities. There are eight kinds of waste: motion, waiting, conveyance, correction, over processing, overproduction, inventory, and knowledge disconnection.
Yamazume: A stacked bar chart that shows “where the time goes”. Yamazume helps balance workloads between processes. When combined with Takt time, it helps to identify bottlenecks.

Shared, experiential learning across an organization.

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