Kanban Kaizen Yokoten Kaikaku Muda Mura Muri Gamba - What on earth do these Lean Terms Mean?

Kanban Kaizen Yokoten Kaikaku Muda Mura Muri Gamba – What on Earth do these Lean Terms Mean?

While lean developed from the Toyota Production System, you don’t need to understand Japanese to understand Lean. And you don’t have to use this language if you want your business to be Lean. Essentially you don’t need to use Japanese language at all to engage and implement Lean.

Actually, The Toyota Production System was built on the work of Henry Ford and Fred Taylor, neither of them were Japanese. What Toyota did was to bring in and shape mass production and scientific management ideas to create a system that would work for them in Japan. Of course they translated the ideas in to Japanese and build on these ideas to suit the work in their factories in Japan.

But you don’t need to add another layer of confusion to your lean implementation. We suggest that if you want your people to buy into Lean drop the Japanese lingo. Dump the jargon. Go for clearness. Use the English language. Remove Japanese words from your training material, your emails and your signs. In essence, make Lean more inclusive, more understandable and stick to your native language.

Language is an important part of Lean culture building and if the language you use to describe your continuous improvement culture is not foreign, it becomes easier for your staff and people to identify with what you are trying to achieve.  Why would you need to call your workshops Kaizen or the shop floor the Gemba? Part of the problem is that while it may be important for an OpEx/Lean professional to learn the terms and techniques and how they emerged and developed for their craft, it is not so important for a team that you want to deliver a continuous improvement initiative to be coached and trained as an OpEx/Lean professional. In fact they are two totally different teaching and learning processes.

It can be really off putting to your team and in fact, in lean thinking, using Japanese terms could be considered a barrier to engagement and even wasteful! It is important that you create your lean culture that is owned by your people – it is your way of doing things versus the ‘Toyota Way’ and so speaking plainly keeps your lean transformation and activities as transparent as possible and potentially avoids obstacles to staff buy-in.

But, just so you don’t feel that you are missing anything we have undertaken a little translation for you. So that the next time you hear some OpEx/Lean expert say ‘I am going to the gemba to look at the muda, mura and muri because I am thinking of arranging some time out for a kaizen” you will be able to translate even if they can’t!

Kanban – This is the Pull System

Kaizen – Continuous Improvement for the better

Yokoten – How your organisation learns and share

Kaikau- Big change

Muda – Waste or processes that don’t add value

Mura – Process variation

Muri – Over burdening your processes or people

Gemba – Is simply the work place


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