CQI, like many other disciplines, has a language all its own. Many of the terms are acronyms, others are Japanese words retained from Toyota’s original improvement methodologies, and some reference specific techniques that may be unfamiliar. So, if you’re a bit confused when getting into the weeds of CQI, you are not alone. This is not a comprehensive list of improvement terms, but it is a good start and should be a welcome asset to anyone new to the approach. We’ll tackle the list alphabetically.
5S: This is a workplace organization technique with roots in the Japanese auto industry. The five words that start with S in both Japanese and English are sort, set, shine, standardize and sustain.
A3 Problem solving: This CQI technique is a method for capturing all of the stages of a problem including identification, analysis, review, improvement planning, and project management all on one piece of paper. A3 refers to the paper size that was typically used. Now many organizations manage A3 projects with software.
Control Charts: Control charts, sometimes called process-behavior charts, are visualization tools used to determine whether or not a process is in a state of statistical control. Data points are plotted on a graph that shows the expected statistical deviation. When data falls outside that deviation, the process is out of the control state.
DMAIC: DMAIC is an improvement methodology with five phases; define, measure, analyze, improve, control. These steps are used to help ensure that improvements are data-driven, measurable and repeatable. Although often associated with Six Sigma, it can be used as a stand-alone technique.
Five Whys: The 5 Whys is a method for finding the root cause of a problem or defect. Practitioners ask why something happened, then why again, and again until the source of the issue is identified. Asking why five times will usually, but not always be sufficient to get to the underlying problem.
Gemba Walks: The term Gemba come from a Japanese phrase that means “the real place.” Gemba walks are a practice in which supervisors visit the places where work is done. They represent an opportunity to identify potential improvements in processes, workflow, and the work environment.
High-Reliability Organization (HRO): A organization that has succeeded in avoiding catastrophes in an environment where accidents can be expected due to risk factors and complexity is referred to as a High-Reliability Organization. Airlines, nuclear power plants, and healthcare organizations are examples.
Hoshin Kanri: Also known as Strategy Deployment, this is a step-by-step planning, implementation, and review process for managed change. The Japanese words "Hoshin Kanri" can be interpreted as “direction management.” The planning process is designed to ensure that the entire origination is focused on several breakthrough goals, that the goals are clearly communicated, and everyone is accountable for their role in success.
Kaizen: Kaizen is a Japanese word that means, “good change.” It embodies the idea that everything can be improved. The philosophy embraces the ideas that improvement should be constant and that improvement is the responsibility of every person in the organization.
Kanban: Also know as visual management, Kanban is a system of clues that indicate what to produce, when and how much. The approach has five principles: visualize the workflow; limit the work in progress; manage flow; make process policies explicit; improve collaboratively.
Lean: Also referred to as Lean management or Lean manufacturing, Lean is management philosophy centered on preserving value by eliminating waste to improve overall business performance.
PDSA Cycle: The PDSA cycle includes four consists of four steps: Plan, Do, Study and Act. PDSA Cycles are used to create incremental improvements. It is a simple approach that is used during daily improvement or during a rapid improvement event.
Pokayoke (AKA Mistake-proofing): This technique aims to avoid mistakes by preventing, fixing, and drawing attention to errors as they occur. It focuses specifically on human errors and is designed to shape the behavior of individuals in an effort to reduce defects.
Rapid Improvement Events (Kaizen Events): This CQI technique involves assigning a team of stakeholders to focus on a process or problem with 100% of their energy for a short period, usually three to five days.
Run charts: A run chart is a visualization tool used to document changes in a process over time. It displays observed data in a time sequence.
Six Sigma: This CQI business methodology focuses on improving the quality of outputs by finding and removing the root cause of errors and reducing variability by using statistical measurement and quantifiable targets.
Standard Work: Standard Work is the current, documented best practice for a given process. It details each activity and defines the expected results.
Statistical Process Control (SPC): Statistical process control is one CQI term that is exactly what it sounds like. It represents the use of statistical methods to monitor and control a process to make sure that it is as efficient as possible.
Takt time: Takt time defines the rate at which each step in the process should be completed. Takt is the German word for the baton that an orchestra conductor uses to regulate the tempo of the music.
Value Stream Mapping: Another visualization method, Value Stream Mapping is used to assess the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to the customer.
As we mentioned, this list doesn’t cover every CQI term of art, but hopefully, it has shed some light on some of the words you will hear most often as you embark on your continuous improvement journey.