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Kaizen and TPS Lexicon

May 22, 2014 | Posted by Matt Elson

We frequently get a lot of question around the mean of some of the terms we use when we discuss, implement and train people in kaizen and TPS.  While we usually stay away from reference materials (that can lead to “toolkit” or “mechanical” thinking), we thought it might be good idea to get some of the more often used terms and phrases in one place for you to reference on your journey to true north!

You can find all of these terms (and many, many more) published by people far smarter than I am, but these are the ones that seems to come up quite a bit when we work with clients on improvement activities.



A series of small, incremental improvements towards true north condition.  Continuous improvement.


Waste of overburden.  Difficult; problematic for people.


Non-value added waste.  No pay; worthless.  Activities that do not add value that the customer will pay for.


Waste of unevenness.  Uneven; lack of uniformity.

A3 Report:

A single page report out, usually (and preferably) hand-written.  Named because of the size of paper (typically, 11×17).  A process to simply and concisely report on a problem, analysis, kaizen strategy, results and next steps in improvement activities.  (The thinking is that if you can’t record the problem and activities onto one sheet of paper, you don’t understand it deeply enough.)


Leveled production; smoothing by volume and variety.

Genchi Genbutsu

“Go and See” to understand the problem yourself.  Actual place, actual people, actual time.  Problem solving can only occur after careful observation of what is actually occurring.


Or kanban card.  A system (often involving cards) that facilitates the movement of materials or production scheduling in a closed loop system.


Two aspects:  1)  Separation of human and machine work (i.e. human is not a “slave” to the machine), and 2)  Built in Quality in the process (i.e. never pass a defect to the next process).  Stop, notify and correct the problem before proceeding.


A type of alarm system to notify leadership of a abnormal condition.  Often includes lights and/or audible signals.

Toyota Production System (TPS):

Also known as the Thinking Production System.  An organizational culture centered around building the capacity of people to constantly make improvements to their work.  Also to build the capability of leadership to sustain the culture of improvement and development.


Self-reflection.  Reflect on your own failures and what can be done differently next time.


Mistake proofing; fail-safe.  Prevents defects or abnormalities from occurring.

Takt Time:

Pace of production based on customer demand.  From German word for beat.  ”Heartbeat” of your customer.


Process of gaining consensus for change.  Literally “preparing the ground” for change.


Hope you find the list useful!  Drop us a note if you have any others that you think should belong on this list!

Until then,






Learn Four Strategies To Start Improving Any Area Of Your Business