Lean Terminology

5 Why's

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.

5S plus Safety

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

Affinity Diagram

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 the relationship between the issue and the category. Then categories are ranked, and duplicate issues are combined to make a simpler overview.


The sum of all measurements divided by the total number of measurements. A statistic which is used to estimate the population mean. Same as MEAN.


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.

Batch Delay

This is the time during which a service activity is idle while other services or transactions are completed or processed. An example is the time the first service request of the day is on hold while all the other service requests for that day are entered into the system to await approval.


Open, unhampered thinking. Idea generation.


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

Continuous Flow

Continuous flow is the sequencing of activities through the entire service process, one task "unit of work" at a time, to minimize delays and reduce the overall lead time.

Continuous Improvement

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.

Current State

Defines where we are right now, the ―as-is, including all areas of defects, waste, wait, etc.

Cycle Time

The time it takes to complete the tasks required for a single work process (ex. completing a sales order, changing a light bulb)


Term for a series of key measures


Factual information used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation; often refers to quantitative information.

Data Collection Plan

Data collection is any process of preparing and collecting data, for example, as part of a process improvement or similar project. The purpose of data collection is to obtain information to keep on record, to make decisions about important issues, or to pass information on to others.


Aspects of our service that do not conform to customer expectations or internal requirements, thus causing dissatisfaction.

Delay Time

The amount of time spent between two processes; however, the individuals within the process can continue to work on other projects.


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

Error Proofing

Error proofing is a structured approach to ensuring quality throughout your entire work processes. This approach enables you to improve your service processes to prevent specific errors-and, thus, defects-from occurring.


Allocates resources based on first in first out service tasks. First-come first-served (FCFS) and call back or time-based systems are examples of FIFO-based scheduling.

Fishbone Diagram

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

Future State

A new set of conditions that has been determined that will improve both process and information flow; the "ideal way".

Gantt Chart

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 the 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.

Intangible Benefits

Intangible benefits, also called soft benefits, are the gains attributable to your improvement project that are not reportable for formal accounting purposes. These benefits are not included in the financial calculations because they are nonmonetary or are difficult to measure.


Any excess inventory that is not directly required for delivery of offerings and services. In our environment, physical inventory consists of all supply resources such as excess materials, equipment, and facilities.

Just-In-Time (JIT)

A manufacturing practice pioneered by the Toyota Motor Company where each workstation acquires the required materials from upstream workstations precisely as needed.

Just Do It (JDI)

A just do it (JDI) project is one where there is a quick win that can often be implemented by a small team or even one person and take a relatively small amount of time to complete. JDI projects do not require a separate Niihka site, but do require documentation in MyCard.


Japanese for "improvement", or "change for the better," refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing and business management

Kaizen Event

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%.


Japanese word for signal. 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.).

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Is a type of performance measurement. KPIs are commonly used by an organization to evaluate its success or the success of a particular activity in which it is engaged. Sometimes success is defined in terms of making progress toward strategic goals, but often success is simply the repeated achievement of some level of operational goal (for example, zero defects, 10/10 customer satisfaction, etc.).

Lead Time

The time it takes to complete an activity from start to finish. Lead time contains activity cycle time, batch, and process delays.


A strategic and methodical approach to streamline processes while being highly considerate of the individuals completing the work. Ultimately, Lean's purpose is the relentless pursuit to eliminate waste. Another way to look at Lean is continuous improvement.

Lean Metrics

Lean metrics are defined as a system or standard of measurement that gauges progress toward the six lean goals of defining demand, extending demand lead time, matching supply to demand, eliminating waste, reducing supply lead time, and ultimately reducing total costs.

Lean Tools

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).


Extra steps taken by employees and equipment to accommodate inefficient process layouts, defects, re-processing, over-servicing, and too little/much inventory.

Non-Value Add

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.

Non-Value Add but Necessary

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

Overproduction/Over servicing

The worst type of waste, over servicing, occurs when we deliver offerings or perform services that are simply not needed. In the lean environment, it is important to perform services per customer timing expectations and per scheduled use of resources, but no sooner and no later. The results of over servicing are 1) the client being overcharged for the benefit they receive, 2) internal resources being tied up with less productive activities, and 3) increased internal cost with no benefit.

Over Servicing

The worst type of waste, over servicing, occurs when we deliver offerings or perform services that are simply not needed. In the lean environment, it is important to perform services per customer timing expectations and per scheduled use of resources, but no sooner and no later. The results of over servicing are 1) clients being overcharged fort he benefit they receive, 2) internal resources being tired up with less productive activities, and 3) increased internal costs with no benefit.

Over Processing

Extra operations, such as unnecessary levels of decision making, rework, re-processing, handling, storage that occur because of defects, over-servicing, etc. It is more efficient to complete a process correctly the first time than to make time to do it over to correct errors.

Pareto Chart

Named after Vilfredo Pareto, a type of chart that contains bars, where individual values are represented in descending order by the bars

Pareto Principle

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

Process Flow Diagram

The standard operation chart allows analysis of the work sequence and the current operation layout. It also enables you to track the physical distances in which people and materials cross in order to complete a task. A "spaghetti diagram" is a popular version of a process flow diagram.


A series of steps or actions that produce a complete order or product.

Process Map

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.

Project Scope

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".

Project Scoping

Preparation for Lean or Kaizen application. Summarizes project goals, measures, team members, out of scope issues and other issues that may impact a project.

Pull System

Where services are delivered at the time of need and service resources are made available based o service delivery timing requirements and in the desired sequence (queue), but not before.

Push System

Where service resources are automatically made available, whether or not they are needed.

Report Out

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

Return on Investment (ROI)

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.


A portion of a population of data chosen to estimate some characteristic about the whole population. One or more observations drawn from a larger collection of observations or universe (population).

Scatter Diagram

A diagram that displays the relationships between two variables.


an on-going record to keep track of a process. Typically visual in nature.


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.

Six Sigma

To improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in a business process. A Six Sigma process generates a maximum defect probability of 3.4 parts per million (PPM) when the amount of process shifts and drifts are controlled over the long term to less than +1.5 standard deviations.


Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Spaghetti Map

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.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Reliable instructions that describe the correct and most effective way to get a work process done.

Standard Work

Detailed definition of the most efficient method to produce a product (or perform a service) at a balanced flow to achieve a desired output rate. It breaks down the work into elements, which are sequenced, organized and repeatedly followed. (Procedures)


consistency or serving customers the same way each time.


Companies who provide products to another company for use in the course of a producing a product or service

Swim Lanes

Individually defined rows within a process map

Takt Time

The amount of available time your employees have to conduct an aspect of a service, divided by the rate of customer demand. Takt time sets the pace of service delivery to match the rate of customer demand.


Unnecessary movement of resources, such as people, tools, equipment, materials, and documents, from one service activity to another or from one location to another.


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

Value Add

Any activity that changes the form, fit, or function of a product to meet the needs of the customer, is done right the first time and the customer is willing to pay for it.

Value Stream Mapping

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; it differs from the process mapping of Six Sigma in four ways: 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 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.

Wait Time

The amount of time a customer physically waits before being able to move forward to the next step in the process. (Ex. waiting in line at the grocery store)

Special thanks to Memory Jogger's "The LEAN Enterprise for Service" and to Lean.Ohio.gov