Lean Terminology

Lean management: Basic terms (applicable for both manufacturing and services)

Lean management

The term implies that individual, team and organisational effort is channelled towards removing any practices that do not add value for the customer and the business

Autonomation (Jidoka)

Clever machines. The first ‘clever’ machine in mass production was made and used in a textile factory in Japan by Toyoda Sakichi. Mr Toyoda Sakichi thought that it was counter-productive and uneconomical to have faulty textiles produced so he devised a machine that would stop production every time a thread was cut. At Toyota this production philosophy prevails even today. Workers are expected to stop production if an error is identified

Baton Passing Zone

A mind-set and practice to ensure that all workers are trained to focus on eliminating / managing variances in production. All supervisors need to ensure that the workers in production line 1 will be able to work on production line 2 rhythm and vice versa if something goes wrong

Do not make isolated islands

The smooth operating mode for each process and value chain is the target. As it is understood that the end result is achieved through a series of interconnected and cross-departmental work flows, the operational architecture and Reality is studied so as to:

  • Train and enable the workers to help each other
  • In case there is a need to reduce the number of workers in a particular production line, this not to affect the level of efficiency


A workplace organisation method in 5 stages:

  • Sort
  • Set in order
  • Shine
  • Standardise
  • Shine

5 Why’s

To dwell into the primary reason for any unwanted situation, we just ask ‘why?’ five times.

Failure Mode & Effect Analysis (FMEA)

A method to assess problems, factors and possible impacts. The team identifies what can go wrong, putting in place the right management systems

Just in Time

We could say that Toyota’s production system is based on two axons:

  • Autonomation and
  • Just in Time

According to this method, the target is 0 or almost 0 inventory; this means that whatever is necessary for production is delivered at the right quantity, quality and time


Small –usually- daily improvements performed by managerial and non-managerial staff. Kai means ‘take part’ and zen means ‘do something good’.  Kaizen projects aim at eliminating and/or reducing waste. Ideal for pilot projects.


A control card which is the heart of Toyota’s upstream pull system. Nothing is taken to the next level without a Kanban that carries the necessary information. There are 4 types of κanban:

  • Withdrawal kanban
  • Transport kanban
  • Production ordering kanban
  • Signal kanbal

Moving vs Working

‘Work’ in Lean is associated with ‘progress’ not with ‘moving’ and progress is achieved when a work task/element is concluded effectively

Multi-process Operation System

According to Lean, productivity and work satisfaction are improved when the same worker works on 5 different production lines (Multi-process Operation System). This also means that a Lean worker is multi-skilled

Plan, Do, Check, Act

One of the simplest yet most effective Lean methods


In order to ensure 100% quality, equipment and materials are improved with error preventive design. Examples:

  • If there is a fault in the material, the machine does not start
  • When a stage in a given production process is not fulfilled, the next stage does not start

Production levelling (Heijunka)

Usually production and work flow (services) is designed under the axiom that inventory is useful as customer demand may vary. This axiom though creates a lot of waste and inefficient management systems. According to lean, we try to reduce variances in production, setting the variance for the last production sequence (work flow operation) at 0. This is achieved when everything is forecasted and managed according to market response and not by product category

Small Lot sizes & quick Setups

The era of mass production is not at its peak! The opposite. Lean methodology has the answer for small budges with quick production changes and setups

Standard work procedures

The mind-set and rule to standardize the best method and sequence for each process so as to enable quality


A poster-sized notice with information on lean projects and initiatives usually on important factors, results and what to be attended to


A system used to store a predetermined level of finished goods inventory; used when circumstances make it difficult to sustain continuous flow

Takt time

The pace of customer demand. This means that customer orders need to be fulfilled at a rate that meets customers’ expectations in terms of speed (apart from quality)

Value Stream Mapping (VSM)

VSM is a valuable tool to understand Reality, mapping the work flow by value streams. Ideal for manufacturing and services, it offers an integrated picture of resources, work flow, quality and results.  Do use VSM before any change management initiative

Waste recognition  and elimination

Value is created when ‘waste’ is reduced or eliminated. According to Lean, any of the following destroy Value:

  • Over production
  • Waiting
  • Over transporting
  • Over processing
  • High inventory
  • Moving too much (information, materials, people)
  • Errors and mistakes and of course not working to plan

 Work improvement & Equipment improvement

We can say that in order to improve production, we need to improve two dimensions:

1.      The way work is designed, performed and managed and

  1. The equipment

According to Lean, we always start considering how the work flow (value chain operations) can be better aligned and managed so as to eliminate waste before buying any new – and usually expensive- equipment




Contact us for a detailed brief.