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Lean Terminology

Updated on June 3, 2010

Huh?...What did you say?

I know how it feels, trying to talk to someone who is a practitioner of lean, not understanding what they are talking about. It sounds like a different language, and that's exactly what it is. It is a language of the lean culture which is heavily rooted in the Japanese language.

This hub is targeting those who have not yet had their lives affected by the lean revolution. Hopefully after reading this hub you will begin to understand people speaking this lean language and its terminology.

A brief description of lean

Lean manufacturing is a system that has the chief aim to "producing more value with less work ". If you had to describe lean in one word it would have to be efficiency. Lean is made of many principles and tools some of which are listed below. Please note this is not an all inclusive list, but some of the popular terms that I personally have come across in my limited lean journey. Remember lean is not the goal but it is the journey of continuous improvement while striving for perfection.


The term Andon refers to a device that notifies management and maintenance personnel that there is a problem with a work cell. They can come in many different forms like visual boards, lights, or audio alarms. Andons can be actuated manually or can be fully automatic. An example of a fully automatic andon would be the flashing light of a CNC lathe when an alarm has been tripped. The machine stops running until the alarm has been fixed.

Catch ball

The term Catch ball refers to a process of bouncing ideas back and forth between two or more people in effortsto improve the original idea.  As the old saying goes two heads are better than one. 

DFMA Design for Manufacturing and Assembly

Design for manufacturing and assembly is a system comprised of design principles when used correctly assures that the design will be easily processed and assembled. It is a tool used to increase value and reduce waste. It is concurrent with many lean concepts. For example a poka yoke device is both a DFMA principle and a part of Shingo's Zero Quality Control System.


Gemba is a Japanes term that can be defined as the place where the work happens or the value is created. In a manufacturing environment it generally occurs on the shop floor. A gemba walk is when you would go and see where the work happens. A gemba kaizen is a quick focused improvement of the place where the work happens.


 A Japanese term for self reflection.  It refers to ones admittance of making mistakes and their pledge to improve.  Can be translated into "Leraning from ones own mistakes".


Heijunka is the Japanese term for production leveling or smoothing. It is a tool used to reduce mura and create flow.

Hoshin Kanri

Is a method of planning to lead to the attainment of strategic goals. It is typically used by management to create goals and then measure the progress of attaining those goals. A Hoshin plan is usually a one year plan aligned with the long term strategic goals of the company.

JIT Just In Time

JIT or Just In Time is a strategy in which the goal is to reduce in processed inventory. It is done by striving to have the right material arrive where it is needed exactly when it is needed. JIT will produce a pull system of production which by design will improve flow. A pull system of production is a key concept of lean.


The Japanes term Kaikaku refers to aa radical improvement aimed at reducing wastes in a value stream. It can be a complete overhaul of the flow of a value stream or even the implementation of a completely new system.


Kaizen is the Japanese word for improvement. It differs from a Kaikaku in that it is focused on a portion of the value stream instead of the whole system. It is a continuous improvement activity.


Kanban is a visual device used to trigger an action. One common form is the use of kanban cards to notify the need for material to be replenished.


Muda is a Japanese term that refers to waste that does not add value to a product. It be defined as waste of material and or time. Taichi Ohno defined the seven most common wastes as overproduction, waiting, transportation, over-processing, excess inventory, excess motion, and defects.  commons/b/b5/Trash_can_and_recycle_bin.png commons/b/b5/Trash_can_and_recycle_bin.png


The Japanese term Mura is defined as unevenness or inconsistency. It is consistent with a traditional push system of manufacturing. Mura can be reduced through use of production leveling and JIT.


Muri is Japanes term thar can be defined as waste by overburdened. It is common in jobs that are not well defined and resources that are in high demand. It can be relieved by modifying resources or through the use standardized work.

Poka Yoke

A poka yoke device is one that reduces or eliminates mistakes. The two kinds of poka yokes are informative and preventative. An informative poka yoke notifies you that a condition exists that may cause a mistake. A preventative poka yoke removes the possibility of making a mistake.

Six S.....6S

6S is a methodology that enables the workers to manage there own areas. The elements are defined as, Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, Spread, and Safety.

SMED Single Minute Exchange of Dies

SMED is an abbreviation of the lean term "Single Minute Exchange of Dies".  SMED is a methodology used to reduce waste associated with changeovers. Rapid changeovers are an important part of reducing lot sizes. The lower the changeover time the more economical small runs become.   photos/rsdio/ /    CC BY 2.0 photos/rsdio/ / CC BY 2.0

Tact Time

The term tact time refers to the pace a work cell has to maintain to meet the customer's demand. It is often referred to as the heartbeat of a cell. It should not be confused with cycle time.

Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping is a tool used to map out the flow of material and information. Once a value stream is mapped wastes become more obvious. Once wastes are identified work can begin to eliminate them.

Work cell

A cell is a arrangement of dedicated resources designed in such a way as to reduce waste and improve flow.

Do you currently use any lean production principles at your place of enployment?

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Additional Resources

If this hub has perked your interests in lean then you may want to check out some of the resources in the below sections. These resources will help you expand your knowledge about lean and the principles that make it up.

Toast Kaizen

This DVD uses the real life example of making toast to demonstrate the wastes and how to use lean principles to eliminate them. It is narrated at stars GBMP president and Shingo Prize recipient Bruce Hamilton. GBMP is the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership and is located at

Toast Kaizen

Toyota in the news

"Award winning and widely imitated, the Toyota Production System is stunningly simple. The customer places an order, the dealer notifies Toyota, and the car is built to spec." This is the opening sequence of the embedded you tube video to the right. It is a true pull production system where the customer's demand pulls through the proper channels so that production can start on their vehicle.

The second video is a overview of the Toyota plant in Georgetown Kentucky. While this video does not hit on lean principles it does show the general processes involved from stamping through final inspection.

Both videos where derived from leanenteprise's channel on you tube leanenterprises


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    • johnyater profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Hamilton, Ohio

      LeanMan, Thanks again for reading.

    • LeanMan profile image


      8 years ago from At the Gemba

      Good hub defining some of the main terms in lean manufacturing


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