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Is 'Lean' a 4-Letter Word?

Describe lean concepts and practices without the jargon to avoid employee resistance. 

Lean manufacturing is filled with catchphrases and shorthand that provide those involved in the process a way of clearly communicating with one another. But the overuse of unfamiliar terms can turn skeptical employees into resistant ones.

"Toyota has its own corporate jargon. A fair number of Japanese terms carry very specific meanings within the Toyota context. A common shorthand means staff can communicate more efficiently," explains Mark Rosenthal, author of The Lean Thinker. "The more insidious use of jargon is when a group uses it to exclude others. Jargon becomes an obfuscation to disable communication, establish a sense of mystery and differentiate those who 'know' from those who are not yet enlightened."

Employees understand waste, and you can help them see it better by identifying seven types if you want to. Calling waste "muda" isn't necessary. And you don't have to say "SMED" to explain why quick setup can make your processes flow better.

Similarly, "kaizen" events solve problems, but there's no reason you can't call them process improvement events. And principles like the quick detection of problems and the implementation of timely corrective action don't need Japanese or Six Sigma labels.

To get your points across effectively, use simple English phrases to replace the jargon in describing concepts you want to teach. The New Manufacturing Challenge: Techniques for Continuous Improvement, by Kiyoshi Suzaki, published before Japanese terminology became commonplace, is one source of alternative nomenclature. The book's title is a great kickoff. You face a challenge. Convince employees of that, and explain that the way to meet the challenge is continuous improvement.

In addition to a plain-English book like Suzaki's, there are many glossaries that can help you select the language you will use for new way of operating. Often cited is the Lean Lexicon from the Lean Enterprise Institute. Whatever terminology you choose, select it carefully, use it consistently and make sure it's reflected in your training materials.


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