Lean Glossary

A glossary of terms and definitions used throughout the website.

The Main Lean Concepts

See our Terminology section below for more on the words or phrases with an asterisk

Lean (thinking)
the basic philosophy and context for business improvement and specific lean tools. The approach is to use the customer as the focus and ensure that resources are used effectively and waste is eliminated. Value is defined by the customer and supply-chain* workflow is viewed as a value stream*.

Lean (tools)
a range of business tools to support business improvement, measuring operational performance or implementing and sustaining change. Use only the tools and techniques that are appropriate to the business environment and its characteristics.

Lean (journey)
the steps to becoming lean and world class. The Toyota Production System (TPS) is often used as the benchmark where the major steps are about stability, continuous flow*, synchronised work*, pull systems, levelling workloads* and ongoing continuous improvement.

Lean processing
the phrase we recommend to represent those aspects of lean specifically concerned with effective work flow such as inter-group communications, levelling workloads* and team working.

Process mapping
ways to visualise and improve business processes considering both physical material flows and information flows. Several lean tools are available, from top-level value streams* through spaghetti diagrams* and string diagrams* to detailed process flow analysis.

Added value
defined as being what the customer requires and values. This excludes many tasks that may be thought necessary but should be considered as waste.

anything that does not add customer value. The starting point is to consider 'the seven wastes' of Transport, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Over-processing and Defects (TIM WOOD). Additional wastes include 'untapped human potential' and 'making the wrong product efficiently'.

Standard work
standard procedures and standard operating instructions (SOPs). Standardisation is considered the key to good quality, flexibility, people and process development. Effective SOPs are owned by the people performing the task and represent the 'current best method' of doing the job (to be improved whenever possible).

Repetitive work
where similar activities are the norm. Usually associated with standard products - but equally applicable to custom products or services where the activities are similar in type or size even though the final deliverable is different.

Pull systems
ways of making work flow to meet actual customer requirements as opposed to pushing work into the system against forecast demand or target stock levels. Take care to understand current methods - it is often not easy to distinguish between push, pull or flow. Classic material planning systems start by pulling work to a master schedule but safety factors often make the result more push than pull.

Visual triggers
simple visual control systems in the workplace that are able to control workflow. Often referred to as Kanbans, these may take many forms from empty spaces, low stacks of boxes to two bin systems*. They are useful for the control of both stock replenishment and the flow of work in progress.

Pacemaker process
the part of the supply chain that is the limiting factor, often referred to as a constraint or bottleneck. In lean thinking this is the task or activity that controls the pace of the whole workflow.

Takt time
the frequency or pace at which a task has to be performed, usually measured in seconds or minutes but could be days or weeks. Good for balancing workloads.

the 'place of action', workplace. The clear message is if you want to improve the process go to the where the work is; look, investigate and analyse. Do not just do a purely theoretical analysis.


A Glossary of Lean Jargon

Abbreviation / Phrase Translation Use as
5C Workplace organisation: Cleanup, Configure, Clean & Check, Conformity, Custom & practise Improvement Framework
5S Workplace organisation: Sort, Set in Order (or Simplify), Shine (or Sweep), Standardise, Sustain (or Self Discipline) Improvement Framework
CANDO Workplace organisation: Cleanup, Arranging, Neatness, Discipline, Ongoing Improvement Framework
Continuous flow The objective in order to ensure good customer service. To be achieved whilst minimising bottlenecks and avoiding waiting time. Objective
DMAIC Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control Improvement framework
EPE Every Part Every planning time period (for planning and scheduling) Concept
FIFO First In First Out (for sequencing and stock rotation) Technique
Heijunka Load levelling technique Technique
Kaizen Continuous improvement Improvement framework
Kanban Visual trigger Technique
Levelling workloads Moving tasks, or parts of tasks, so that each person, work area or department is able to complete work in the time available - to match the pace set by the customer. Technique
Milkround Regular collection or delivery route (every day or week) Technique
Muda Waste Concept
OEE Overall Equipment Effectivity (Availability, Performance, Quality) Technique
Pareto Analysis technique (ABC Analysis, 80/20 rule, Runners/Repeaters/Strangers) Technique
  Plan Do Check Act Improvement framework
Pokayoke Mistake proofing, preventing faults Technique
SMED Single Minute Exchange of Dies (quick changeover) Technique
Spaghetti diagram A layout diagram, of a work area or department, where the flow of materials, or the movement of people, has been represented by adding lines to show the routes and distances travelled. Technique
String diagram Similar to a Spaghetti diagram but using coloured string / cotton attached to pins or pegs at points along the route. The string lengths allow a quick comparison of distances travelled for various materials or tasks. Technique
Supply Chain The term supply chain is used to stress the importance of considering all the organisations, department or work areas involved in providing a product or service. Scope
Synchronised work Work moving between people or work areas in the right quantities and at the right rate to match customer demand. Objective
TOC Theory of Constraints (dealing with bottlenecks) Concept
TPM Total Productive Maintenance Improvement framework
Two-bin system A material control technique using two containers for each item. Material is consumed from each in turn and an empty bin is the trigger for re-supply. The number of parts in each is determined by the average usage and the supply lead time. Technique
Value Stream Similar to the term Supply Chain, but emphasising the customer value added at each stage. A useful phrase especially for service organisation where the product is not always visible. See VSM. Concept
VSM Value Stream Mapping (process mapping) Technique


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