The ABCs of Lean Manufacturing: 26 Terms You Need to Know
Language is the basis for communicating ideas. It’s how we learn and exchange concepts, and it’s the fundamental basis behind how we grow and evolve. Nowhere is this more evident than in the language of Lean manufacturing. Lean is more than a collection of concepts and terms — it’s an ecosystem of ideas, made real through the language that describes them.
Below, you’ll find 26 Lean terms worth knowing. Come to recognize these terms not only for their definition, but also what they represent within the Lean framework. Remember, language is knowledge, and knowledge is power!
- A3: The idea behind A3 as a concept is that any problem you’re addressing should fit on a piece of A3 paper (11”x17”) — big enough to display, small enough to carry with you.
- Balancing the line: Distributing the quantity and variety of work across available work time to avoid bottlenecks and over/under utilization of resources.
- Bottleneck: A backup, stoppage, or inefficiency within the value stream that affects downstream efficiency and slows or halts upstream production.
- Cause and effect: A problem-solving practice used to determine relationships between X and Y, or between effects and possible causes.
- Cycle time: The time it takes to complete one specific task from start to finish. The goal is to improve cycle time to promote better efficiency.
- DMAIC: A common Lean problem-solving methodology that involves five important stems: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC).
- ERP: Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) syncs the many crucial aspects of your operations together to help you understand where and how variables align.
- Five whys: A type of root cause analysis that involves asking “why” five times in five different ways to decipher the true nature of the problem.
- Flow: The path of a product through the value stream at its most efficient capacity, with no stops, backups, or wastes.
- Gemba walk: A walk through “the real place” (the factory floor) to get a candid look at how work is done.
- Hoshin Kanri: A strategic planning and management methodology that involves documentation of continuous improvement processes.
- Jidoka: The process of identifying problems and defects at the source of creation and shutting down production to fix them immediately so no defects are passed.
- JIT: Just-in-time (JIT) production involves producing the right number of items to meet demand, at the right time, to avoid surplus and shortage.
- Kaizen: Perhaps the most important concept in Lean manufacturing, Kaizen means ‘continuous improvement,’ and is the heart of Lean philosophy.
- Kanban: A card-style system of tracking maintenance and repair tasks, wherein the card is moved to different sections depending on the status of the task.
- Lead time: The total time it takes to fulfill an order after it’s placed by the customer. Measures the span of the value stream, from raw materials to finished result.
- Muda: The Japanese word for ‘waste,’ eliminating Muda is at the core of most Lean practices and philosophies. Generally refers to wasteful activity.
- Mura: The Japanese term for “unevenness,” it’s often applied to waste within a process that causes that process to become an inefficient one.
- Pareto analysis: More commonly known as the 80/20 Principle, it shows the inverse relationship between effort and output: 80% of parts will account for 20% of products.
- Poka-yoke: The Japanese term for “mistake-proofing” a process. It often goes hand-in-hand with standard operating procedure (SOP) development. It’s designed to increase repeatability and accuracy.
- Pull: A Lean concept wherein demand facilitates upstream production. For example, production only begins after a customer’s order is placed.
- Root cause analysis: The investigation of a problem back to the very root catalyst. Root cause analysis can be explored through many different frameworks.
- Shojinka: The concept of optimizing labor to meet production demand. Beyond staffing, this term also encompasses employee training and workplace structure.
- Six Sigma: A standard of operational effectiveness used in manufacturing. It represents both ideal manufacturing efficiency and the tenants used to achieve it.
- Total productive maintenance: Maximizing the effectiveness and efficiency of machinery through optimal maintenance, problem-solving, and planning.
- Value stream: The complete, start-to-finish process necessary to deliver a product, including all materials, actions, and labor.
There are literally hundreds of Lean terms, concepts, philosophies, and pieces of jargon to go along with the above terms. Learn the language of Lean and you’ll find it easier to look at your factory through fresh eyes, ready to see opportunities for efficiency, waste reduction, and process improvement.