Lean Glossary


Below is a list of commonly used terms in the lean jargon. We have included a brief explanation to assist in your journey:

  • A3 Report – The practice of using one sheet of paper size A3 to summarize and report activities, such as proposals, corrective actions, problem solving sessions.
  • Analytical Approach (to management improvement) – an approach based on learning from the evaluation of past experience.
  • Andon – a system of flashing lights used to indicate production status in one or more areas; the number of lights and their possible colors can vary, even by area within a facility; however, the traditional colors and their meanings are:
    • Green- no problems
    • Yellow – situation requires attention
    • Red – production stopped; attention urgently needed
  • Autonomation (English translation of Jidoka) – a form of automation in which machinery automatically inspects each item after producing it, ceasing production and notifying humans if a defect is detected; Toyota expands the meaning of Jidoka to include the responsibility of all workers to function similarly, i.e. to check every item produced and to make no more if a defect is detected, until the cause of the defect has been identified and corrected.
  • Cellular Manufacturing – an approach in which manufacturing work centers [cells] have the total capabilities needed to produce an item or group of similar items; contrasts to setting up work centers or departments on the basis of similar equipment or capabilities, in which case items must move among multiple work centers/departments before they are completed; the term group technology is sometimes used to distinguish cells that produce a relatively large family [group] of similar items.
  • Cross-Functional Management – the inter-departmental coordination required to realize the policy goals of a Kaizen and Total Quality Control (TQC) program. After corporate strategy and planning are determined, top management sets objectives for cross-functional efforts that cut laterally throughout the organization. Cross functional management is the major organizational tool for realizing TQC improvement goals. It is distinguished by an intensive focus on the follow-through to achieve the success of goals and measures.
  • Company-Wide Quality Control (CWQC) – see “Total Quality Control (TQC)”
  • Cycle Time – the normal time to complete an operation on a product. This is NOT the same as takt time, which is the allowable time to produce one product at the rate customers are demanding it.
  • Deming Cycle – the concept of continuously rotating wheel used by W. E. Deming to emphasize the necessity of constant interaction among research, design, production, and sales so as to arrive at an improved quality that satisfies customers (see PDCA Cycle).
  • Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS) – an integrated manufacturing capability to produce small numbers of a great variety of items at low unit cost; an FMS is also characterized by low changeover time and rapid response time.
  • Heijunka – a production scheduling / load leveling tool, essentially to distribute kanban cards in an efficient manner.
  • Improvement – as a part of a successful Kaizen strategy, “improvement” goes beyond the dictionary definition of the word. Improvement is a mindset of maintaining and improving standards. In a still broader sense, improvement can be defined as Kaizen and Innovation, where a Kaizen strategy maintains and improves working standards through small, gradual improvements, and innovation calls for radical improvements as a result of large investments in technology, processes, and/or equipment. The Kaizen strategy clearly delineates responsibilities: workers are to maintain standards, and managers are to improve standards. The Japanese perception of management boils down to one precept: maintain and improve standards.
  • Jidoka – see “Autonomation”
  • Just-In-Time (JIT) – a process broadly aimed at increasing value-added and eliminating waste; a production scheduling and inventory control technique that calls for any item needed at a production operation – whether raw material, finished item, or anything in between, to be produced and available precisely when needed, neither a moment earlier nor a moment later. JIT was designed at Toyota specifically to cut waste in production.
  • Kaikaku – A rapid and radical change process, sometimes used as a precursor to Kaizen activities.
  • Kaizen – the philosophy of continual improvement, that every process can and should be continually evaluated and improved in terms of time required, resources used resultant quality, and other aspects relevant to the process. When applied to the workplace, Kaizen means continuing improvement involving everyone – managers and workers alike. Kaizen is not limited to manufacturing systems only. It also means continuing improvement in personal life, home life, social life, and working life.
  • Kanban – a communication tool in the “just-in-time” production and inventory control system which authorizes production or movement. It was developed by Taiichi Ohno at Toyota. Kanban is a card or signboard (or any other authorizing device) that is attached to specific parts in the production line signifying the delivery of a given quantity. The quantity authorized per individual kanban is minimal, ideally one. The number of circulating or available kanban for an item is determined by the demand rate for the item and the time required to produce or acquire more. This number generally is established and remains unchanged unless demand or other circumstances are altered dramatically; in this way inventory is kept under control while production is forced to keep pace with shipment volume. A routine exception to this rule is that managers and workers are continually exhorted to improve their processes and thereby reduce the number of kanban required. When fully implemented, kanban (the plural is the same as the singular) operates according to the following rules:
    • All production and movement of parts and material take place only as required by a downstream operation, i.e. all manufacturing and procurement are ultimately driven by the requirements of final assembly or the equivalent.
    • Kanban have various formats and content as appropriate for their usage; for example, a kanban for a vendor is different than a kanban for an internal machining operation.
  • Lean Manufacturing or Lean Production – the philosophy of continually reducing waste in all areas and in all forms; an English phrase coined to summarize Japanese manufacturing techniques (specifically, the Toyota Production System).
  • Line Balancing – equalizing cycle times [productive capacity, assuming 100% capacity utilization] for relatively small units of the manufacturing process, through proper assignment of workers and machines; ensures smooth production flow.
  • Maintenance – activities that are directed to maintaining current technological, managerial, and operating standards.
  • Mixed-model production – capability to produce a variety of models, that in fact differ in labor and material content, on the same production line; allows for efficient utilization of resources while providing rapid response to marketplace demands.
  • Muda (waste) – activities and results to be eliminated; within manufacturing, categories of waste, according to Shigeo Shingo, include:
  1. Transportation – waste involved in the movement and transportation of units
  2. Inventory – waste in taking inventory
  3. Motion – actions of people or machinery that do not add value to the product
  4. Waiting – waste time spent at the machine; delays
  5. Overproduction – excess production and early production
  6. Overprocessing – waste in processing; poor process design
  7. Defective units – production of an item that is scrapped or required rework
  • Mura – inconsistency
  • Muri – unreasonableness
  • Nagara – smooth production flow, ideally one piece at a time, characterized by synchronization [balancing] of production processes and maximum utilization of available time, including overlapping of operations where practical.
  • PDCA Cycle (plan, do, check, action) – an adaptation of the Deming cycle. While the Deming wheel stresses the need for constant interaction among research, design, production, and sales, the PDCA Cycle asserts that every managerial action can be improved by careful application of the sequence: plan, do, check, action (see also SDCA Cycle).
  • Poka-yoke – a manufacturing technique of preventing mistakes by designing the manufacturing process, equipment, and tools so that an operation literally cannot be performed incorrectly; an attempt to perform incorrectly, as well as being prevented, is usually met with a warning signal of some sort; the term “poka-yoke” is sometimes referred to as a system where only a warning is provided.
  • Policy – describes long- and medium-range management orientations as well as annual goals or targets. Another aspect of policy is that it is composed of both goals and measures. Goals are usually quantitative figures established by top management, such as sales, profit, and market share targets. Measures, on the other hand, are the specific action programs to achieve these goals. A goal that is not expressed in terms of such specific measures is merely a slogan. It is imperative that top management determine both the goals and the measures and then “deploy” them down throughout the organization.
  • Policy Deployment – the process of implementing the policies of a Kaizen program directly through line managers and indirectly through cross-functional management.
  • Pull System – a process for production by reducing inventories; a manufacturing planning system based on communication of actual real-time needs from downstream operations ultimately final assembly or the equivalent – as opposed to a push system which schedules upstream operations according to theoretical downstream results based on a plan which may not be current.
  • 5S – refers to the five words sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain. These words are shorthand expressions for principles of maintaining an effective, efficient workplace
    • sort – eliminating everything not required for the work being performed
    • set in order – efficient placement and arrangement of equipment and material
    • shine – tidiness and cleanliness
    • standardize- ongoing, standardized, continually improving sort, set in order and shine
    • sustain – discipline with leadership
  • Sensei – one who provides information; a teacher, instructor, or rabbi.
  • Setup Time – work required to change over a machine or process from one item or operation to the next item or operation; can be divided into two types:
  1. internal: setup work that can be done only when the machine or process is not actively engaged in production; OR
  2. external: setup work that can be done concurrently with the machine or process performing production duties.
  • Setup-Time Reduction – a process for reducing the time to changeover from one part to another. Consists of the following steps:
    • Measure the total setup time in the current state
    • Identify internal and external steps
    • Convert as many of the internal steps to external as possible
    • Streamline the remaining internal steps
    • Streamline the remaining external steps
    • Document and standardize the new process
  • Takt Time – takt, is a German term for rhythm. Takt time is the allowable time to produce one product at the rate customers are demanding it. This is NOT the same as cycle time, which is the normal time to complete an operation on a product (which should be less than or equal to takt time).
  • Total Quality Control (TQC) – organized Kaizen activities involving everyone in the company – managers and workers – in a totally integrated effort toward improving performance at every level. This improved performance is directed toward satisfying such cross-functional goals as quality, cost, scheduling, manpower development, and new product development. It is assumed that these activities ultimately lead to increased customer satisfaction. (Also referred to as CWQC – Company-Wide Quality Control.)
  • Toyota – changed from the true form, Toyoda, meaning abundant rice field, by the Toyota marketing department. Toyoda is the family name of the founders of the Toyota Motor Company.
  • Toyota Production System – see “Lean Production”
  • Value Stream Mapping – A diagram that details the flow of information, materials, and process in order to deliver a product or service to the customer.
  • Waste – see “Muda”
  • WCM – world class manufacturing is the philosophy of being the best, the fastest, and the lowest cost producer of a product or service. It implies the constant improvement of products, processes, and services to remain an industry leader and provide the best choice for customers, regardless of where they are in the process.
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