Acclaimed American journalist and award winning writer Flora Lewis once said, “Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.”
Certainly the Lean management system has enough unique words and terms that, to the newly introduced, it can seem like a different language indeed. But it is true that learning another way to think about things is the main advantage of understanding the language of Lean. In the case of Lean, some words are actually Japanese words central to the approach since its inception at Toyota. Others are English words used in unusual ways.
We thought a quick listing of the words and phrases you’ll need to know to understand and discuss the Lean management system, while not exhaustive, would be of use.
Here they are:
3 Types of Waste – Eliminating waste is a major goal of Lean (but not the only one). Practitioners view waste as belonging to one of these three categories:
- Mura – Mura refers to unevenness and a lack of uniformity in workloads.
- Muri – Muri means “overburden,” related to putting too much of a workload on people or machines.
- Muda – Muda is perhaps the most notorious of the three types of waste, which isn’t surprising given that it means, “futility, waste, and idleness.” The Lean literature also dives deeper by identifying seven (or eight) types of muda. Mura and muri often lead to muda, for a number of reasons.
5 S’s – 5S is an approach to workplace organization, visual management, and waste reduction that uses five Japanese words with English translation that also happen to start with S. The 5 S’s include:
- Seri / Sort
- Seiton / Straighten
- Seiso / Shine
- Seiketsu /Standardize
- Shitsuke / Sustain
Gemba – Gemba refers to the place in the company where the work is being performed. It means “the Real Place,” and is used in context with determining the best source of information about a problem or process.
Kanban – Kanban is a just-in-time scheduling system used to control a logistical chain with a “pull” rather than a push method of production or material movement. Literally translated, it means signboard in Japanese, signaling the importance of visualization to Kanban.
PDCA or PDSA Cycle – Often attributed to Edward Deming, the cycle of Plan, Do, Check, Act (or Plan, Do, Study, Adjust) is central to the Lean management system.
Poka-yoke – A poka-yoke is any step, check, or process in Lean manufacturing that helps workers avoid mistakes. The term actually means “mistake proofing" or "error proofing."
Value Stream Mapping - Value stream mapping is a system of visualizing the connection of every action or process required to produce a product to the value it ultimately brings to the customer.
These are just some of the phrases and concepts at the heart of Lean. If you are implementing the Lean management approach, it is a good idea to look for a Lean training solution that will more fully expand on the meanings of each of these terms and help you expand your thinking around conserving value for the customer.