Lean Lingo


The key principles of Lean are what distinguish it from other quality improvement techniques.  By focusing on continuous improvement and respect for people, these principles strive to improve workplace efficiency and include understanding what your customer values, mapping value, flow, pull, and striving for perfection.

When defining value of a product, process, or service, value is what the customer is willing to pay for.  It is important to determine what the customer wants and to evaluate what will be delivered from the customer’s perspective.

Using the customer’s value as a reference point, identify all the activities that contribute to these values.  Activities that do not add value to the customer are considered waste.  The waste is then broken down into two categories, non-value added but necessary and non-value added & unnecessary.  Waste that is unnecessary should be eliminated and those that are necessary should be minimized so that the customers are getting what they want while also reducing the cost of producing that product or service.

After removing waste from the value stream, flow of the remaining steps should be smooth and without interruptions or delays.  Identify any bottlenecks in the process and work to alleviate them.

Develop a system that does not start new work until there is a demand for it.  The goal is to produce value that is needed by your customers and avoid overproduction.

Lean thinking and continuous improvement should be part of the organizational culture.  The goal is to constantly improve processes by focusing on enhancing the activities that generate the most value for the customer while removing as many waste activities as possible. 



The 5 why’s typically refers to the practice of asking, five times, why the failure has occurred in order to get to the root cause/causes of the problem.


A process and method for creating and maintaining an organized, clean and high performance workplace. Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, Sustain.


A tool used to organize and present large amounts of data (ideas, issues, solutions, problems) into logical categories based on user perceived relationships and conceptual frame working. Often used in the form of “sticky notes” sent up to the front of the room in brainstorming exercises, and then grouped by facilitator and workers. Final diagram shows relationship between the issue and the category. Then categories are ranked, and duplicate issues are combined to make a simpler overview.


A snapshot of the state of inputs/outputs frozen at a point in time for a particular process. A baseline should be recorded to establish a starting point to measure the changes achieved with any process improvement.

Full-time Six Sigma project leader who is certified following a four-month training and application program and successful completion of two Six Sigma Projects, the first under the guidance of a Master Black Belt, the second more autonomously.

Open, unhampered thinking. Idea generation


A matrix used by teams to evaluate problems or possible solutions.

An executive level business leader who facilitates the leadership, implementation, and deployment of Six Sigma philosophies.

In Lean terms, a process improvement that will save time and better serve customers.

Adopting new activities and eliminating those which are found to add little or no value. The goal is to increase effectiveness by reducing inefficiencies, frustrations, and waste (rework, time, effort, material, etc.). The Japanese term is Kaizen, which is taken from the words “Kai” means change and “zen” means good.

Standards of performance for a product or service that are essential in order to meet the requirements of the customer.  These are targeted for process improvement initiatives in order to identify ways to improve business processes.

Defines where a process is right now, as-is.  The current state workflow process shows the flow of information and identifies opportunities for improvement.

Someone for whom work or a service is performed. Customers can be either internal or external to the organization.


Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. Basic Lean method for process improvement.


That which was produced by a cause.


First In, First Out; “Take one, Make one” Produces at a steady rate or flow.

First In, Still Here; Representative of batching or accumulated backlog or inventory. May be work in process as well.

A schematic sketch, usually resembling a fishbone, which illustrates the main causes and sub-causes leading to an effect (symptom).

A new set of conditions which has been determined will improve both process and information flow.


A Gantt chart is a powerful and preferred visual reporting device used for conveying a project’s schedule. A typical Gantt chart graphically displays the work breakdown, total duration needed to complete tasks, as well as %completion. The Gantt chart itself will not display level of effort, and is not an effective planning tool on its own. Today, Gantt Charts may be integrated with other spreadsheet-type reporting devices that convey additional information related to project planning. Furthermore, Gantt Charts are often enhanced with functionality that includes the identification of relationships between tasks, and the ability to dynamically change task attributes.

An employee of an organization who has been trained on the improvement methodology of Six Sigma and will lead a process improvement or quality improvement team as ‘part’ of their full time job. Their degree of knowledge and skills associated with Six Sigma is less than that of a Black Belt or Master Black Belt.


A three to five day intensive study, decomposition and re-engineering of an organizational process, typically targeting process steps, handoffs, and delays with a goal to improve by a minimum of 50%.  Based on the Kaizen philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement of processes in business management.

Japanese work for visual signal. Work items are visualized to give participants a view of progress and process.  It is used in a pull system to signal when production is to start, and can take a number of forms (e.g., cards, boards, lights, bins, etc.).


Organizational process of finding and eliminating waste and speeding up processes.

Delivering the most value from your customer’s perspective while consuming the fewest resources.

Tools and techniques taken from the Lean/Six Sigma discipline that can be applied over time to smaller or less critical issues (sometimes referred to as “bottom-up” projects). (DMAIC, SIPOC)


The Japanese term for waste.


Any activity that does not add form, feature or function to the product. Non-value activities include transportation, storage, inventory, handling, queues, machine repairs, etc.

Does not add any form, feature or function to the product but is necessary by mandate, law or code


80% of the trouble comes from 20% of the problems (i.e. the vital few problems).

Any attempt at eliminating the root cause of defects prior to their occurrence. Also known as Mistake Proof.

Flow chart to analyze a process by breaking it down into its component steps, and then gaining a better understanding of the process, step-by-step. Pictorially representing a process, showing steps, decisions, inputs, etc.

A document or sheet that clearly scopes and identifies the purpose of an improvement project. Items specified include background case, purpose, team members, scope, and timeline.

Business leaders and senior managers who ensure that resources are available for training and projects, and who are involved in project tollgate reviews.

Defined and specific project beginning and end points. The more specific the details what’s in-scope and what’s out of scope, the less a project may experience “scope creep”.

Customer requested. The right thing at the right time. Produces a steady flow of production and delivery.

Customer requested. The right thing at the right time. Produces a steady flow of production and delivery.


A chart or matrix that identifies key roles and responsibilities against major tasks within a project.  Responsible (doing the actual work), Accountable (accountable for the success of the task, usually the project manager), Consulted (provides details and additional information, SME), and Informed (requires details on major updates, senior leadership).  

Preparation of summary slides and discussion points to present to senior leadership, colleagues and interested parties at the conclusion of a project event.

An indicator used to measure the financial savings/gain (or loss) of a project in relation to its cost. Typically, it is used in determining whether a project will yield positive financial benefits, and in turn giving approval to proceed. The formula for a Project ROI = (project’s financial gain or loss – project’s cost) / project’s cost) X 100.

The most basic cause (often determined by using the 5 why’s) that can reasonably be identified that can be fixed to prevent the problem’s recurrence.


SIPOC stands for suppliers, inputs, process, output, and customers. You obtain inputs from suppliers, add value through your process, and provide an output that meets or exceeds your customer’s requirements. SIPOC – Suppliers (Internal or External resources), Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customers.

A pictorial representation of physical movement within a process.

People who will be affected by the project or can influence it but who are not directly involved with doing the project work. Examples are Managers affected by the project, Process Owners, People who work with the process under study, internal departments that support the process, customers, suppliers, and financial department.

Internal or external entities who provide inputs to others for use in the course of producing a product or service. 

A process change that can be maintained. For the long term.

Individually defined rows within a process map.

Each process has an effect on the next process.


Acronym used to remember the seven wastes: Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, over production, over processing, defect(s).

Toyota’s continuous improvement practices are known as TPS; Toyota employs practices to eliminate waste.


Providing details of a requirement that includes the type of user, what they want, and why they want it.


Any activity that changes the form, fit, or function of a product to meet the needs of the customer.

Value stream mapping is a paper and pencil tool that helps you to see and understand the flow of material and information as a product or service makes its way through the value stream. Value stream mapping is typically used in Lean; 1) it gathers and displays a far broader range of information than a typical process map. 2) It tends to be at a higher level (5-10 boxes) than many process maps. 3) It tends to be used at a broader level, i.e. from receiving of raw material to delivery of finished goods. 4) It tends to be used to identify where to focus future projects, subprojects, and/or Kaizen events.


Voice of the Business - The “voice of the business” is the term used to describe the stated and unstated needs or requirements of the business/shareholders.


Voice of the Customer - The “voice of the customer” is the term used to describe the stated and unstated needs or requirements of the customer. The voice of the customer can be captured in a variety of ways: Direct discussion or interviews, surveys, focus groups, customer specifications, observation, warranty data, field reports, complaint logs, etc.


Unwanted, unnecessary to a process. Customer is not willing to pay for it. Inefficient use of resources.

Smooth and steady rate of processing that continuously meets the customer’s expectations

Updated: 10/29/2020 01:20PM