KAIZEN™ Glossary | Lean Terminologies & DefinitionsKAIZEN™ Glossary | Lean Terminologies & Definitions


Visual management tool, originating from the Japanese word for ‘lamp’. Most commonly, andons are lights placed on machines or on production lines to indicate operation status, notifying management, maintenance and other workers. Andons are commonly colour-coded green (normal operations), yellow (changeover or planned maintenance), and red (quality or process issue, machine down) often combined with an audible signal such as music or alarms. The andon concept can also be used to show project status with the colors green, yellow, or red meaning on track, slipping, late or to indicate general business performance as in on target, behind target, target missed.

A chart with upper and lower control limits within which a machine or process is “in control”. Frequently a centerline, midway between the two limits, helps detect trends toward one or the other. Plotting critical measurements on the chart shows when a machine or process has gone “out of control” and must be adjusted. It is one of the Basic Seven Tools of Quality.

An end-user who purchases a company’s products or services but is not an employee or part of the organization. The goal of world-class companies is to “continually delight” this customer, thus creating “an increasing affection” for its products and services.

The Deming Cycle, or PDCA Cycle (also known as PDSA Cycle), is a continuous quality improvement model consisting out of a logical sequence of four repetitive steps for Continuous Improvement and learning: Plan, Do, Study (Check) and Act.

A system of continuing interaction amongst all elements, including suppliers, responsible for achieving the continuously improving quality of products and services that satisfy customer demand.

A Japanese term meaning change for the better. KAIZEN™ is a gradual and long-term approach to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality. KAIZEN™ was popularized by Masaaki Imai in his book ‘KAIZEN™’: The Key To Japan’s Competitive Success.

Kamishibai is a way of telling stories that originated in Japan. Kamishibai cards are used, in a business context, as a visual control to perform audits to processes. The result of the verification is visually displayed (green/red).

The word Kobetsu originated in Japan and means “focused,” with Kobetsu KAIZEN™ referring to focused KAIZEN™. It is a structured problem-solving methodology used to achieve different goals such as: reduce defects or errors, costs and delivery times; increasing productivity or the security at the workstation.

In English this term literally means that it contains no fat, this is, lean. When applied to the management context, it means a strategy that aims to reduce or eliminate excess/ waste.

Most of quality control is non-statistical, particularly that portion which has to do with human resources. Elements are self-discipline, morale, communications, human relations, and standardization. Statistics are only one tool in Quality Control and are of limited use with regard to human beings and methods.

In Japan, this term is used to describe long – and medium-range – management priorities, as well as annual goals or targets. Policy is composed of both goals and measures (ends and means). Goals (control points) are usually quantitative figures established by top management, such as sales, profit, and market share. Measures (Check Points) are the specific action programs designed to achieve these goals.

A system whereby customer requirements, known as true quality characteristics are translated into designing characteristics, known as counterpart characteristics, and then deployed into such sub-systems as components, parts and production processes to develop new products precisely designed to meet customer needs. QFD is one of the seven KAIZEN™ Systems.

A refinement of the PDCA cycle aimed at stabilization of production processes prior to making attempts to improve.

A vital element in balancing single-piece production flows, Takt Time is calculated by dividing the total daily customer demand in completed units (television sets, automobiles, can openers, and the like), by the total number of production minutes or seconds worked in a twenty-four hour period.

A methodology that resulted from over 50 years of KAIZEN™ at Toyota. TPS is built on a foundation of Leveling, with the supporting pillars of Just-in-Time and Jidoka.

A KAIZEN™ concept which is often called Ask why five times because it seeks through curious questioning to arrive at the root cause of a problem so that the problem can be eliminated once and for all.

A term in TQC that refers to things that are not yet problems, but are still not quite right. They are often the starting point of improvement activities because if left untended they may develop into serious problems. In gemba, it is usually the operators who first notice Warusa-Kagen, and who therefore are on the front line of improvement.

A KAIZEN™ concept and process whereby, through continuous improvement, defects are eliminated farther and farther upstream in the production process, first in inspection, then in the line, then in development.

Key activity or cluster of activities which must be performed in an exemplary manner to ensure a firm’s continued competitiveness because it adds primary value to an output.

In quality control, inherent source of variation that is 1. random, 2. always present, and 3. affects every outcome of the process. The common cause is usually traced to an element of the system that can be corrected only by the management. Also called assignable cause.

Any member of an organization who relies on assistance from another to fulfill the job duties, such as a sales representative who needs assistance from a customer service representative to place an order.

Refers to the Pareto principle stating that for many events roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes

The three principles and seven concepts of KAIZEN™ which serve as a foundation for the systems and tools required for the implementation of Continuous Improvement and Total Quality Management, and which shape the culture and thinking of an organization’s leadership.

Automatic parts ejection. Parts may be manually inserted into a machine, but when the cycle is complete the processed part is automatically ejected so the operator can simply insert the new work and move the ejected part on to the next process, thus reducing his/her cycle time.

An organisational culture based on the three principles – Process and Results, Systemic Thinking and Non-judgmental/Non-Blaming.

A materials requirement planning tool in the Just-in-Time production and inventory control system developed by Toyota. Kanban is often seen as a central element of Lean manufacturing and is probably the most widely used type of Pull signaling system. Kanban stands for a visual sign (Kan- card, Ban- signal). On the basis of automatic replenishment (through signal cards that indicate when more goods are needed) the flow of goods with outside suppliers and within the factory and the customers, is regulated, this system is called “Kanban”.

The English acronym for key indicators, the key indicators of a given process or activity.

A method of organising transport in standardised cycles in which a vehicle passes through several collection/ delivery points with a fixed frequency. It functions as a subway line that meets fixed times with certain frequencies.

Japanese word for Waste and a key concept in the TPS as one of the three types (muda, Mura [Irregularity or Unevenness] and Muri [Strain]) of deviation from optimal allocation of resources.

A person who manages all the logistical work of bringing components, raw materials, etc. in small quantities to work stations to minimize work-in-process inventories. This allows machines to be placed closer together and spares the operator from having to interrupt his/her cycle time, thus minimizing transportation muda. Water spiders usually are experienced workers. They know where needed parts or raw materials are stored, and serve several workstations.

One-piece flow production is when parts are made one at a time and passed on to the next process. Among the benefits of one-piece flow are 1) the quick detection of defects to prevent a large batch of defects, 2) short lead-times of production, 3) reduced material and inventory costs and 4) design of equipment and workstations of minimal size.

The process of implementing the policies of an organization’s leadership directly through line managers and indirectly through cross-functional integration and cooperation.

A circular chart with ten rays and spokes, one for each of the three principles and seven concepts of KAIZEN™. It is used as a diagnostic tool to measure on a scale of zero (at the hub) to ten (at the rim) the degree of consistency with KAIZEN™ principles and concepts exhibited by an organisation.

Shojinka means “flexible manpower line” and the ability to adjust the line to meet production requirements with any number of workers and demand changes. It is a way of managing person-power on the line such that when demand decreases, workers can be re-deployed to areas where needed, or when demand increases, they can be deployed to areas requiring additional support. Preferred to the system of maximizing machine efficiency, which pays no attention to customer demand and Takt Time.

TPM is a holistic approach to maintenance that focuses on proactive and preventative maintenance to maximize the operational time of equipment. TPM blurs the distinction between maintenance and production by placing a strong emphasis on empowering operators to help maintain their equipment.

Yokoten is a Japanese word meaning “horizontal deployment” and refers to the practice of applying good results of KAIZEN™ in one area to other areas. Yokoten can also refer to “copying” product design ideas, business processes or better machine settings, materials or methods in general. Yokoten requires a culture of “go see” information sharing between departments, both for successes and failures.Yokoten is a essential part of long-term success in a Lean culture, but can also have a big impact on short-term results.

The values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization.

The inter-departmental coordination required to realize strategic and policy goals of KAIZEN™ and Total Quality Management. Its critical importance lies in the follow-through to achieve goals and measures.

The concept of Benchmarking is based on the Japanese Word of Dantotsu meaning Best of the Best

5S is a simple tool for organizing your workplace in a clean, efficient and safe manner to enhance your productivity, visual management and to ensure the introduction of standardized working.
5S Seiri; Sort, Clearing, Classify
5S Seiton; Straighten, Simplify, Set in Order, Configure
5S Seiso; Sweep, Shine, Scrub, Clean and Check
5S Seiketsu; Standardize, Stabilize, Conformity
5S Shitsuke; Sustain, Self Discipline, Standardization

A Japanese word that literally means the real place. Used in the context of KAIZEN™, gemba usually refers to refer to the place where value is added, such as the shop floor. In a broader sense, gemba refers to any place in a company where work is being performed; thus one may have an engineering gemba, a sales gemba, an accounting gemba, etc.

Just in time is a system which pulls parts through production based on customer demand instead of pushing parts through production based on projected demand.This technique can be implemented with the help of different Lean tools, such as Continuous Flow, Heijunka, KANBAN, Standardized Work and Takt Time. Just in Time results include in line- balancing, one-piece flow, little or no excess material inventory.

The KAIZEN™ Suggestion System is an essential part of individual-oriented KAIZEN™. Its design is carefully plotted, implemented and communicated. Scrupulous attention is paid to top management responsiveness and to developing a system of feedback, recognition, and rewards.

Kata means routine or pattern of behaviour. The term Kata, in the KAIZEN™ scope, refers to two behaviours: Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata. Improvement Kata is a four-step methodology by which an organisation improves and adapts. Coaching Kata is the routine by which leaders and managers guide the Kata improvement process.

The total time elapsed from the point when a customer request is made until the finished product is ready for shipment to the customer. In service industries, the total time elapsed from when a customer expresses a need to when that need is satisfied.

The Japanese word Obeya means “large visual room,” also known as Mission Control Room: These are spaces where project management (Continuous Improvement) is done.

A walk through the gemba to observe evidence of what may be various types of Muda. The object of this walk is to show that the gemba is full of data and opportunities for improvement for those whose eyes are trained to see them. muda walks are not intended to provide opportunities for blaming and finding fault. Contrasted to the traditional tendency to find who is to blame for problems and mistakes, this approach looks at the problem with others to seek a solution. Also implicit in this principle is an approach of childlike curiosity about how things work and how they can be improved, instead of judging whether things already done are good or bad, right or wrong. The principle does not imply that managers must never exercise judgment since good judgment is always required in decision-making.

The concept of QCD (Quality, Cost, Delivery) mainly emphasis on providing products and services to the customers at better quality, affordable prices and in time.

A management style usually associated with controls, performance, product or bottom line considerations, rewards and/or punishments.

The use of statistical tools (Pareto Charts, Histograms, Check Cause-and-Effect Diagrams, etc.) to ensure that machines are within acceptable tolerances, or to solve quality problems through the use of tools.

Total Quality Management or TQM is an integrative philosophy of management for continuously improving the quality of products and processes. TQM is based on the premise that the quality of products and processes is the responsibility of everyone involved with the creation or consumption of the products or services offered by an organization, requiring the involvement of management, workforce, suppliers, and customers, to meet or exceed customer expectations.

Creating a visual picture of the current state or how material and information flows from suppliers through manufacturing and to the customer. Total lead-time, process cycle times and value-added times are measured. The future state is created based on goals desired, on market conditions and strategic planning for the business.

Visual Management is a set of techniques for creating a workplace embracing visual communication and control throughout the work environment. The VM philosophy is underpinned by the view that “what gets measured and displayed, gets done.” Simple visual tools are used to identify the target state, and any deviance is met with corrective action. It also makes it easy to understand the processes which have been put into place. Such information may pertain to jobs themselves, to the business as a whole, to how work teams are progressing on a project. Examples of Visible Management are KANBAN cards, tool shadow boards, storyboards, etc.