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Ever wondered "What is Lean?", "What is Kaizen?" or "What is six sigma?" We've put together a comprehensive list of lean terms to help you understand what it all means.


We've also included an example and, wherever possible, linked it to a relevant blog for further reading or a video from our YouTube Channel.

Lean Made Simple: Your Guide to the Lean Glossary

Welcome to our ultimate Lean Glossary, packed with all the key terms you need to know! Lean is a fantastic way of streamlining processes, cutting out waste, and making things run super smooth in all kinds of organisations.

In this glossary, we've got all the important words and phrases that cover everything about Lean, from the basic principles to the fancy techniques used by Lean experts. Whether you're just starting out or a seasoned pro, this glossary is your best buddy.


5s is a workplace organization and waste elimination method that stands for Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardise, and Sustain. Strong 5s helps operators to make good parts safely without hunting for things and compensating for poor tools and machines. It helps supervisors by making abnormlaities obvious really quickly.


An example of 5S would be implementing a cleaning schedule for workstations, using shadow boards to organise tools, and regularly auditing the workspace to ensure that it is free from clutter and unnecessary items.

A3 Problm Solving


A3 problem solving is a structured approach to problem-solving that uses a single sheet of paper (the A3) to guide the process and communicate the results. A good lean coach uses each step of the A3 sheet to challenge the person they're coaching in areas like problem grasping and framing, depth of data analysis and brainstorming.


An example of A3 Problem-Solving would be using the approach to address a quality issue in a manufacturing process, with the team documenting the current situation, identifying the root cause of the problem, and developing and implementing countermeasures.


Andon is a system that notifies the team (primarily the team leader) when an issue occurs, so it can be investigated and resolved quickly without the operator having to leave the workstation. Andon literally means "lantern" so is usually a light (often with an accompanying slightly annoying tune).


An example of an Andon system would be a light or alarm that alerts the team leader to a problem in the production process, allowing them to quickly address the issue and prevent further waste. Andons can be single lights' light stacks, boards or even low cost pieces of red and green card.



Cycle time is the time it takes to complete one part of an operation.  We often talk about floor-to-floor cycle time i.e. the time from "load" to next "load" or "pick up part" to "pick up next part".


An example of cycle time would be an operator uploading a part (A) from a machine, picking up an unprocessed one (B) from a box, loading it into the machine and pressing start.  Then checking the unloaded part (A) while the machine is working and putting it (A) into a finished parts box.  The point at which they're just about to remove the just processed part (B) is the end of ONE CYCLE.

Cycle Time


Flow refers to the continuous movement of materials, information, and people in a process. Using the principles of Simplify - Combine - Resequence - Eliminate can be enough to improve flow. A more structured method is to use Value Stream Mapping to assess, marry and imporve the material and information flows.


An example of Flow would be designing a manufacturing process to minimize delays or bottlenecks, such as arranging workstations in a U-shaped layout to reduce the distance and time required to transport materials.



Gemba is the place where the work is done; where the value is created. Gemba is also known as genba.


An example of Gemba would be the shopfloor in a manufacturing facility, the wards in a hospital, a building site in Construction or the office space where designers work and collaborate. The importance of identifying the gemba is remembering that going there is the best way to find out what is truly happening.



A gemba walk is a habit for bringing management and support staff to the shopfloor to understand and support the work going on there. A gemba walk can be done different ways but must have a purpose. If the walk doesn't result in action by the walker, they're just stretching their legs.  It is also known as a Genba walk


An example of a gemba walk would be an Operations Manager walking around their cells observing and finding improvements to the way quality is being managed on the shopfloor.

Gemba Walk


Genchi Gembutsu is going to the source to understand the problem and find a solution.


An example of Genchi Genbutsu would be a production manager visiting a supplier's factory to observe the production process and understand the root cause of a quality issue.



Hansei is reflection and self-examination to identify areas for improvement.


An example of Hansei would be a team reflecting on a project (whether it failed or succeeeded) to identify what went wrong and develop a plan to prevent similar mistakes in the future.



Heijunka is leveling production, which involves producing a mix of products or services in small batches to reduce variation and improve efficiency. Volume and mix are levelled to support flow, to takt time, through the factory.


An example of Heijunka would be spreading out production throughout the day or week to avoid bottlenecks or overburdening any one part of the production process.



Hoshin Kanri is a strategic planning process that aligns an organisation's goals with its resources and activities. Hoshin is powerful when it's kept simple and involves different levels in a catchball approach.


An example of Hoshin Kanri would be creating a multi-year strategic plan with input from all levels of the organization, setting specific goals and objectives, and aligning all processes and resources to achieve those goals.



Jidoka is an autonomation, a process that designs machines, jigs and fixtures to detect and/or stop production when an 'error' occurs. the aim is to stop the 'error' becoming a 'defect' by stopping the issue at source.


An example of Jidoka would be a sensor that detects a missing part of the assembly and stops the production line, allowing the problem to be corrected before the product continues down the assembly line.



Jishuken is a practical, hands-on workshop that involves going to the Gemba to deeply understand an issue and develop countermeasures. The emphasis is on learning by observation and running PDCA experiments.


An example of Jishuken would be a team devoting a week to improving a production process, with a specific goal to reduce the cycle time by 50%.



Just-in-time (JIT) is a manufacturing approach that produces and delivers products on demand, minimizing inventory.


An example of JIT would be a car manufacturer that only orders the exact number of parts needed to build a specific car, reducing the amount of inventory on hand and the associated carrying costs.


Kaizen is an approach to generating many small continuous improvement ideas that involves everyone in the organisation. The power is in the fact that 200 people each making 2 small kaizens adds up to 400 kaizens and a significant improvement.



An example of Kaizen would be holding regular team meetings to discuss process improvements and identify areas for waste reduction, and then implementing those changes in a timely manner to improve efficiency and quality.


Kamishibai is a visual control system that typically uses T-cards and involves regular audits of things like standardised work or TPM.



An example of Kamishibai would be using cards to check that daily TPM tasks are completed in a manufacturing area. A Team Leader will check the kamishibai board periodically to ensure that they're being done and help with abnormalities/issues.



Kanban is a visual system for managing inventory and production by using preset signals (often cards) to trigger the production of parts from an upstream operation. It's a pull rather than push system to reduce inventory and leadtime.



An example of a Kanban system would be using a signal card to indicate that a certain part needs to be replenished in a manufacturing process, triggering the supplying process to send a replacement.



Lean is a strategy and approach that focuses on reducing waste and maximizing value from the customers perspective.



An example of a lean initiative would be implementing a process to reduce lead times by eliminating waste and reducing non-value added activities, thus reducing the amount of time it takes to deliver a product or service to the customer.


Lean tools are techniques and methods designed to optimise processes, eliminate waste, and enhance productivity in manufacturing or services. Examples include 5s, Kanban, SMED and Value Stream Mapping. CAUTION: Lean is more than just tools.



An example of lean tools would be using SMED to reduce changeover time on a machine or value stream mapping to reduce lead time

Lean Tools
Lead time


Lead time is the time it takes to get a product through your factory from goods inwards to despatch.  Often called "Dock-to-dock" or "Womb-to-tomb" (informally).  It includes all processing and waiting time. 



So, imagine painting a part red and tracking it as it makes it's way through all the operations AND from bottom to the top of the piles of inventory sat between them.



Mieruka is visual management, which involves making information and data visible and accessible to everyone.



An example of Mieruka would be using visual displays to show key performance metrics for a production process, with green, yellow, and red indicators to highlight performance levels.



Muda is any activity that adds no value to the product or service - also known as the 7 Wastes.



Examples of Muda/Waste include unnecessary waiting or transportation, excess inventory, or overproduction.



Mura is unevenness or inconsistency in a process.



An example of Mura would be the fluctuation in customer demand that can cause uneven production levels, leading to overburdening in some areas and idle time in others.



Muri is overburden or strain in a process.



An example of Muri would be assigning a worker to a task that requires a high level of physical or mental effort without adequate rest or training



Nemawashi is a process of discussing and gaining agreement on a decision before it is made. Nemawashi is generally seen as positive in the West but, in the wrong hands, can be used manipulatively.



An example of Nemawashi would be meeting with key stakeholders before implementing a new process to get their input and address any concerns or objections.



Obeya is a team-based approach to project management that involves a physical workspace where team members can collaborate and visualize their work. Obeya literally translates as "big room". the aim is to have strong communication and timely, but selective, escalation within the team.



An example of Obeya would be a project team using a physical room with walls covered in visual displays to collaborate on a project and make decisions in real-time.



OEE is overall Equipment Effectiveness, a measure of the efficiency of a machine or process. It should be selectively used and is a brutal measure - there's nowhere to hide if calculated correctly. Calculating OEE isn;'t the endgame, it's what you do with the pareto below the 3 sub-metrics that counts.



Overall Equipment Effectiveness, a metric used to measure the effectiveness of a production process. OEE tracks the Availability, Performance, and Quality of a machine of automated manufacturing line to identify areas of waste and opportunities for improvement.

operational excellnce


Operational excellence is a philosophy and management approach that strives for continuous improvement across all aspects of an organisation, focusing on optimising processes, reducing waste, improving quality, and delivering exceptional value to customers.



An example of operational excellence would be using a broad suite of tools and philosophies to optiise the buisness.  Lean and OpEx are very similar in their intent.


PDCA is plan-Do-Check-Act, a cycle of continuous improvement. It's a smart way of (i) making sure and improvement is ACTUALLY an improvement, and (ii) reminding us to standardise a successful kaizen into daily work.



An example of PDCA would be a shopfloor team improving the work of an assembly line stage to bring it below TAKT Time (see TAKT Time). They'd look at how the work is done, then identify and eliminate wastes (see 7 Wastes). After this they'd create a draft new SOP (Plan), try it with a briefed operator (Do), check that it doesn't compromise Safety or Quality and delivers the expected improvement (Check), then Act. Act will be either to update the standard and train it out (if the trial worked) or go back to Plan if it didn't.



Poka-yoke is translates as mistake-proofing, through devices, jigs or sensors for example, to prevent errors or defects. Poka-yoke devices can either alert someone that an error has occurred OR stop the error and subsequent defect occurring.



An example of Poka-yoke would be designing a product assembly process to only allow components to fit together in the correct orientation or sequence, reducing the risk of errors or defects. This might be done by using a jig designed to only allow the product to fit one way (the correct way) before it gets worked on.

Problem Solving
Pull system


Problem solving is the systematic approach of identifying, analysing, and resolving challenges or obstacles within processes, aiming for continuous improvement.



An example of problem solving would be using pie and pareto analysis to identify your number 1 defect.  Using the 7 step practical problem solving approach on the shopfloor to grasp the ROOT CAUSE of that defect and put in countermeasures to prevent recurrence.  It can be equally applied to Availability, Productivity, Delivery and Absence problems (for example anywhere there is a gap to the expected standard.


Pull system is a production method where products are produced and/or moved to the next process based on customer demand.



An example of a Pull system would be using a Kanban card to trigger the production of parts only when they are needed, rather than producing them in advance and storing them in inventory. This helps to eliminate the "mother" waste - overproduction.

six sigma


Six Sigma is a data-driven approach to quality control that seeks to reduce variation and defects.



An example of Six Sigma would be using the methodology to reduce defects in a manufacturing process, by analyzing data to identify the root cause of defects, developing and testing solutions, and implementing improvements to reduce variability.

Skills matrix


A skills matrix is a visual tool that assesses the skills and competencies of team members, helping in task assignments, training, and identifying skill gaps for improvement in the organisation.



An example of a skills matrix would be a 1 page A4 sized coloured chart in a Team Leaders cell showing who can work, and train others, on which operations.  This lets the Team Leader flexibly keep prodution going where there is absence or holidays or when rotation is needed.


SMED is single-Minute Exchange of Die, a 4 step process for reducing changeover & setup time to increase flexibility and reduce waste. Also known as Quick Changeover (QCO).



An example of SMED would start with videoing and analysing a changeover of a frequent running, long changeover part. Each work element is categorised as Internal or External work before waste is eliminated and the remaining elements are resequenced.

standardised work


Standardised work is the best, current documented method for SAFELY producing QUALITY products at the required CYCLE TIME combining people, machines and materials.



An example of Standard work would be creating a detailed Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for a manufacturing process to ensure that all steps are completed in the same way every time, reducing the risk of errors and minimizing waste.

Takt time


Takt time is the rate at which the customer demands a product. Therefore, how often a finished product has to come off the end of our manufacturing process to satisfy customer demand.



An example of Takt time would be a company that produces 60 units of a product per hour, when the customer demand is for 720 units per day (i.e., 12 units per hour). The Takt time would be 5 minutes per unit.

Team Brief
Value Stream Mapping


A team brief is a regular short meeting, often at the start of a shift ,where team members gather to discuss goals, progress, and the day's challenges, promoting communication, alignment, and quick decision-making within the team.  It is a key Shopfloor Leader skill to be able to deliver a strong, sub-5-minute, forward looking team brief.



An example of a team brief would be in a factory working 7am-3pm shifts - at 7am the Team Leader gathers the team for a maximum of 5 minutes to check they're ok to work, to pass on important messages for the shift, check they're understood, hear questions and concerns, allocate tasks and give the shift a simple focus.


Value stream mapping is a Visual hands-on tool that helps us see the flow of material and information as a product progresses through the value stream.



An example of Value Stream Mapping would be creating a diagram of the process for creating a product (or family), including all elements (both value added and non-value added) that occur from starting as raw material through to delivery to the customer. The aim is to improve the current state with a future state that has a shorter leadtime.

Value Added


Value is [For manufacturing]: Any work that alters the nature, shape or characteristics of the product…towards what the customer wants. [For non-manufacturing]: Usable information and knowledge.



An example of adding value would be painting a product, assembling 2 parts together or tightening a bolt. The picking up a part is not value added.

Visua Management


Visual Management is the use of visual methods to understand the current condition inside factories, communicate information and track progress.



Visual Controls' ( e.g red tags) indicate abnormal conditions. 'Visual Displays' (e.g SQDC recording sheets on a board) measure, analyse and display information.



Waste is any activity that does not add value to the product or service (see above) or is not absolutely necessary to allow value to be added (e.g loading a machine).



Examples of waste in a manufacturing process could include overproduction, excess inventory, excessive motion, waiting for materials or information, unnecessary processing steps, and defects that require rework or scrap.

Work in progress


Work in progress (WIP) is the amount of unfinished work in a process or production system.



An example of WIP would be tracking the batches in progress in a manufacturing plant, to identify bottlenecks and optimise the production process.



Yokoten sharing knowledge and best practices across an organisation so that the same problem doesn't have to be solved in isolation by 2 areas working for the same organisation.



An example of Yokoten would be a team in one department sharing their process improvements with other departments, to improve processes and achieve common goals.

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