Glossary of Continuous Improvement Terms

Below is a listing of commonly used continuous improvement terms. Please note, at DSHS we try to use common “plain-talk” language in our Lean events, but we also include many of the Japanese terms in the glossary, as these have become accepted as business terms that is often found in continuous improvement literature.

5S - 5S is a step-by-step process used to increase workplace efficiency and effectiveness by promoting visual management, organization, standardization, and continuous improvement. 5S is a foundational element of Lean improvement work. It is also a concept that can easily be applied to your desk or workplace or a shared office space.

5 Whys - A method of root-cause analysis that entails the progressive asking of "Why?" at least five times or until the root cause is established.

A3 - A one-page reporting format, named for the international paper size (11" x 17" in US sizes). It contains, on one page, critical information about an issue, such as description, cost, timing, data, planned solution, and planned resolution.

Check Points - Check Points is a structured, prepared form for collecting and analyzing attribute data. You can use this generic tool for a wide variety of purposes. This tool is also called tally sheet.

Continuous Flow - The ideal state where products move through a manufacturing process - or people move through a service process - one at a time, without stopping or waiting.

Current State - A current state map is a snapshot of how a process is currently done. It may be a current state process flowchart, or a current state value stream map (VSM), but the principle is the same

Customer -The person or entity who is the recipient of what you produce, either within your organization or outside your organization.

Cycle Time - The time it takes to do a process. It includes the time from when an operator starts a process until the work is ready to be passed on.

DMAIC - An acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. It refers to a data-driven improvement cycle used for improving, optimizing and stabilizing business processes and designs. The DMAIC improvement cycle is the core tool used to drive Six Sigma projects. It is not exclusive to Six Sigma and can be used as the framework for other improvement applications.

Fishbone Diagram - A fishbone diagram, also called a cause and effect diagram or Ishikawa diagram, is a visualization tool for categorizing the potential causes of a problem in order to identify its root causes.

Future State - A future state map is a projection of what the process should look like in the future, a best case scenario.

Gemba - A Japanese term that means where the action occurs, or “go to the workplace”

Handoff - Handoffs are the times work is passed from one person to another person.

Huddles - A short, regularly occurring (daily, weekly, etc.) meeting held at the program or unit level usually at the beginning of the day. The huddle centers around 3 or 4 questions such as "What did you do yesterday?" "What are you doing today?", and "Where do you need help?"

Information Flow - The uninterrupted progression of supporting data and instructions along the value stream.

Just-in-Time (JIT) - Providing what is needed, when it is needed, in the quantity needed, and the quality level needed.

Kaizen - A Japanese term that means incremental continuous improvement that increased the effectiveness of an activity to produce more value with less waste.

Kanban - A Japanese term for a signal that triggers replenishment of withdrawal in a pull system. Kanban is often in the form of a card on a container in production environments. The signal regulates the production flow in the value stream.

Lead Time -The time required to provide a product or service, from request to completion. It includes all the steps from beginning to end; both value added and non-value-added steps; "off hours", and weekends.

Lean - An improvement methodology based on customer-centric definition of value, and providing that value in the most effective way possible, through a combination of the elimination of waste and a motivated and engaged workforce.

Muda - A Japanese term for any activity that consumes resources, but creates no value. Muda is categorized in two forms:

  • Type-1 Muda - Necessary for the process but non-value-added
  • Type-2 Muda - Both unnecessary and non-value-added

Multi-voting - A group decision-making technique used to reduce a long list of items to a manageable number by means of a structured series of votes. The result is a short list identifying what is important to the team. Use multi-voting whenever a brainstorming session has generated a list of items that is too extensive for all items to be addressed at once.

Mura - A Japanese term for waste due to unevenness or variation.

Muri - A Japanese term for waste or stress on the system due to overburdening or unreasonableness.

Non-Value-Added - Any activity, product or process that does not meet the value-added criteria.

Pareto Chart - A special type of bar chart where the values are arranged in descending order, with the largest contribution first. The Pareto chart is a fast and effective way to identify the significant few influences - and separate them from the many insignificant ones.

PICK Chart - A PICK chart is a tool used to help organize, categorize, and identify the most useful, process improvement ideas. The acronym comes from the labels for each of the quadrants of the grid: Possible (easy, low payoff), Implement (easy, high payoff), Challenging (hard, high payoff), and Keep for Later (hard, low payoff).

Pilot - A Pilot is a limited test of a solution to a process. Performed during the Improve Phase of DMAIC or the Do Phase of PDCA, a Pilot is an opportunity to test Root Cause Hypotheses while minimizing risks and cost.

Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) or Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) - An iterative improvement scheme at the core of the kaizen process. This four-step process includes 1) defining the objectives, issues, and potential solution; 2) carrying out the plan in a trial mode; 3) verifying and studying trial results; 4) fully implementing and standardizing the solution. It is also called the Shewhart cycle or Deming cycle.

Poka-Yoke - A Japanese term for a device to prevent the production or occurrence of defects.

Process Map -  A visual representation that outlines how the work is managed within a specific area.  Usually illustrates decision points and how the work flows, similar to a procedure manual, and provides detailed information showing person(s) involved, activities taken place and less focused on time.

Respect for People - The engagement of and investment in people, including training, empowerment, safety, job security, contribution and respect of ideas, and morale. It is foundational to Lean and essential for the creation of a culture where kaizen thrives.

Root Cause Analysis - A popular and often-used technique that helps people answer the question of why the problem occurred in the first place. Root Cause Analysis seeks to identify the origin of a problem. It uses a specific set of steps, with associated tools, to find the primary cause of the problem, so that you can: 1) Determine what happened; 2) Determine why it happened; 3) Figure out what to do to reduce the likelihood that it will happen again.

Scatter Diagram - A basic graphic tool that illustrates the relationship between two variables. The variables may be a process output (Y) and a factor affecting it (X), two factors affecting a Y (two Xs), or two related process outputs (two Ys). It is useful in determining whether trends exist between two or more sets of data.

Sensei - A Japanese term for master or teacher, in the context, of Lean.

SIPOC - An acronym for Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs and Customers. It is a form of defining a process that includes the relationship between these entities; often depicted graphically.

Spaghetti Diagram - A visual representation of movement through a process by using a continuous flow line tracing the path of an item or activity through the process. The continuous flow line enables process teams to identify redundancies in the work flow and opportunities to expedite process flow.

Standardized Work - The definition of a process step characterized by takt time, a set work sequence, and established in-process inventory. Deviations to standardized work constitute an abnormality, which is then an opportunity for improvement.

Takt Time - Takt is the German word for "beat." In Lean, takt time is the pace of production based on the rate of customer consumption. It is calculated by taking the available minutes of work divided by the units required by the customer in that period of time.

Touch Time -The time that the product is actually being worked on, and value is being added. This is typically only a small proportion of the total production time; most of the time is taken up by moving, queuing, etc.

Value -The worth placed upon goods or services, as defined by the customer.

Value-Added - Defined by the customer and must meet all of the following:

  • The customer must be willing to "pay" for it. Payment is generally thought of in monetary terms but could also include time or other resources.
  • The product or service must be done correctly the first time.
  • The product or service must be transformed.

Value Stream -The flow of materials and information through a process to deliver a product or service to a customer.

Value Stream Map (VSM) - Value stream mapping refers to the activity of developing a high-level visual representation of the process flow involved in delivering a product or service (a "value stream") to customers. VSM events focus on identifying sources of non-value added activity (waste) and prioritizing future improvement activities.

  • Current State VSM - A value-stream map that depicts things as they currently exist within the value stream.
  • Future State VSM - A value-stream map that depicts an improved view of the value stream, which advances toward the ideal state.
  • Ideal State VSM - A value-stream map that depicts a value stream composed of only value-added activities.

Visual Management - A business management technique employed in many places where information is communicated by using visual signals instead of texts or other written instructions. Visual control methods aim to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of a process by making the steps in that process more visible.

Voice of the Customer (VOC) - The collective needs, wants, and desires of the recipient of a process output, a product, or a service, whether expressed or not. The VOC is usually expressed as specifications, requirements, or expectations.

Waste - Any activity that uses resources but creates no value for the customer. Usually expressed as muda, mura, or muri.