Cut out the Ninja nonsense. Why the vocabulary of Lean can hinder a successful implementation

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As Manufacturing Growth Director, Steve helps businesses to compete, innovate and grow providing advice and support on new product development, intellectual property protection and production process optimisation. His broad career includes MD of £75M multi-site, European medium volume manufacturing company, Director of global sourcing in a $12B US corporation, MD of an off-shore engineering company in India and design and engineering leadership in sectors spanning aircraft to lawn-mowers. He has a PhD and MSc in Aerospace Vehicle Design, Cranfield, BSc Aircraft Engineering, Salford and is a Six Sigma Green Belt.

Although sometimes it can seem to be a new innovation, Lean manufacturing has been with us for a long time.  Since the early 1900’s there has been a drive to make manufacturing processes more efficient and effective.  The fact that the Japanese at Toyota took the principles and concepts and refined them in to an identifiable, globally-relevant manufacturing process is why we practitioners take the ostensibly Japanese Lean vocabulary and attempt to shoe-horn it in to British organisations.

As that aerospace manager pointed out, we continue to overuse these Japanese words to describe what we do in Lean. Just a couple of second’s reflection conjours up jidoka, kaisen, andon, heijunka, poka-yoke, muri/mura/muda, gemba, kanban and the original 5S’s: seiri, seiton, seiso, seietsu and shitsuke.  Why are we so surprised when the guys on the shop-floor eyes glaze over?

In my experience this is particularly relevant when implementing Lean outside of the automotive supply chain. The Toyota language nearly always gets the reaction that it’s OK for automotive but it won’t work here. The Japanese words get in the way.

At its heart, Lean’s objective is to reduce waste and make the manufacturing process simpler, more efficient and more effective.  But there is a fundamental concept that the complex Lean vocabulary can inhibit - employee engagement.  If you are talking to your team in a foreign language, you can’t expect them to engage with the process, share your passion or contribute.  It’s not their fault that they don’t engage. So please, when you are implementing Lean in your companies use clear English; your boss may be impressed by the Japanese words but the folks where it really matters may well switch off.

EEF Training offer a range of Lean process improvement and intellectual property courses that are designed to meet the needs of a range of Lean implementers and specialists.  If you are starting your Lean journey, then our Introduction to Lean training course offers all of the basic information you would need to start a Lean Process project.

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Manufacturing Growth Director

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