Lean terms regularly applied in Japan don’t always get translated into English when the concepts are used in the United States. Reasons for this include lacking a concise literal translation from Japanese to English, or the Japanese term is used to preserve the integrity of the topic and an English translation makes it seem a little less authentic. Lean terminology translation does not always capture the essence of what it really means.
Either way, failure to translate can be both confusing and intimidating to non-users or individuals who are first being introduced to the concepts. It can certainly be hard to tell whether a word being used by a Lean practitioner is a Lean term or they are referring to sushi.
How confusing can it be? Take this little “Lean or Sushi?” quiz! (Print out your own quiz copy here!)
For every word, determine if it is referring to a Lean concept or something related to sushi.
Please note: this exercise is not intended to make light of the Japanese language, but rather to demonstrate that it is more important to understand the Lean concept and intent as opposed to proper application and memorization of the Japanese term in a sentence.
3. Poka Yoke
11. Hoshin Kanri
14. Genchi Genbutsu
15. Kim Chee
Pencils down! Let’s see how you did!
1. Kaikaku is a LEAN term that means “revolutionary change” – it is a monumental shift in how a process is completed, while Kaizen is more gradual and “evolutionary.”
3. Poka Yoke is a LEAN term for error-proofing a process so that there is only one way – the right way – to complete it and it is impossible to complete incorrectly.
5. Heijunka is a LEAN term for production level-loading so that peaks and valleys in production are minimized and work can be better standardized.
6. Hanedashi is a LEAN term referring to machines automatically popping out completed components and setting ready for the operator to load the next one – this saves time for the operators on having to remove the components themselves.
8. Nagara is a LEAN term meaning “while doing something” – for example, an operator could do two things at once like walking while assembling two components for preparation for the next step in the process.
9. Nigiri is a type of SUSHI with a clump of rice beneath a piece of fish.
10. Nama-tako is a SUSHI term for raw or fresh octopus.
12. Hoisin is a SUSHI term for a sauce used in Chinese cooking, much like barbecue sauce.
13. Gemba is a LEAN term referring to where the work actually happens. Managers should frequently “go to the gemba” to see for themselves firsthand what is actually occurring in their processes and obtain feedback from process operators.
14. Genchi Genbutsu is a LEAN term for “go and see for yourself” – much like “going to the gemba” genchi genbutsu refers to going and seeing for oneself what issues might be occurring.
15. Kim Chee is a SUSHI term for spicy marinated cabbage.
16. Mizusumashi is a LEAN term for internal material handler running “milk routes” for replenishing supplies and is translated from Japanese as “water spider.”
18. Muri is a LEAN term for overworking or overburden in processes. Muri creates excess strain and effort, and ideas should be collected on how to complete such processes with reduced wear and tear on process users.
19. Kani-kamaboko is a SUSHI term for imitation crab meat.
20. Kanban is a LEAN term for inventory management and scheduling similar to how supermarket shelves are replenished. Items are pulled from the shelves and replenished based only on what’s taken. Kanban helps prevent overproduction and excess inventory. (Here’s a link to “Personal Kanban” – interesting.)
21. Koi is a SUSHI term for saltwater carp.
22. Seiketsu is a LEAN term referring to the fourth S in 5S – Standardize. This is having all operators properly sorting, setting in order, and shining in the same way to promote consistency and similarity across work spaces.
27. Muda is a LEAN term for non-value-added activities inherent in processes – reduction and eradication of waste activities is one of the pillars of Lean (along with respect for people).
How did you do? Would you like to share this with others? Here are some .pdf files to use with colleagues!
Again, the key point to be made is that the concepts of Lean are more important than the terms we use to describe them. When I was first being introduced to the Lean tools we referred to the process of error-proofing as “error-proofing” and not “poka yoke”, and even today we in the United States don’t use the Japanese terms for 5S such as Seiketsu – we use Sort, Set In Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. It’s important to use terms that won’t be intimidating or unsettling – bringing down any barriers to “changing for the better” must be applied as much as possible.
(Also, while published on April Fools Day this isn’t intended to be a prank, but at least we can have a little laugh about the similarities to the language used in both “industries.”)