Understanding the Terms of Lean

The principles and strategies of Lean manufacturing are mostly derived from the Toyota Production System. Because this system is was developed in Japan, there are many Lean terms that are also Japanese terms like Heijunka or Jishuken. There are also a few English words in the Lean vernacular including Value Stream Mapping and Bottleneck Analysis. It can be difficult to fully grasp the concepts of Lean manufacturing without understanding the terms, so this post focuses on several common terms you will likely see or hear along your Lean journey.

→ 5S: 5S is a visual management and organizational system that is often used in Lean companies. The name is based off five Japanese words that start with S – Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke. The translated English terms also each start with the letter S – Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.

→ Kaizen: Kaizen is a philosophy and method that is foundational to Lean manufacturing. Kaizen, meaning continuous improvement, is an effective strategy that works to achieve the goals of Lean. It is the idea that companies should make small incremental changes all the time and to always be looking for areas of improvement in the facility.

→ Gemba walks: Gemba is a Japanese term meaning “the real place” and is the core philosophy for Gemba walks. During a Gemba walk, managers and supervisors will go and walk through production processes and talk to frontline workers while seeing the processes up close.

→ PDCA cycle: The PDCA cycle stands for four steps – Plan, Do, Check, and Act. This cycle is excellent for a variety of activities like Kaizen events, Gemba walks, or Six Sigma activities.

→ The 3 M’s: These are three Japanese terms used for the here categories of waste found in a business – Muda, Mura, Muri. Lean manufacturing primarily aims to eliminate or reduce Muda, which includes manufacturing steps or processes that fail to add value for the customer.

→ Heijunka: Heijunka is a Japanese term meaning levelized production. The goal is smooth production out so manufacturing companies can easily switch to producing new products or cease production on current products without having excess inventory to deal with.

→ Root cause analysis: Issues found in a facility can usually only be remedied when the root cause is identified and addressed. Root cause analysis encompasses a number of tools that can be used to find the real reason of a problem and includes strategies like the 5 Whys, the Fishbone Diagram, and Bottleneck Analysis.

→ Value stream mapping: VSM is a visual representation of the production process so managers can clearly see where value is added and where waste occurs.

These are just a handful of terms used in Lean manufacturing! If you are thinking of implementing Lean in your workplace it will be important to understand the terms, tools, and strategies of Lean.

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