Have you wondered why there are so many Japanese quality lean terms? It’s something that sparks quite a curiosity. But if you consider that most quality management principles are traced back to Japan’s automotive industry, you’ll realize that it’s not entirely surprising. But what exactly do these terms mean?
The Lean Six Sigma is a method that involves a collaborative team effort to improve performance through reducing variation and removing waste systematically. It combines Six Sigma and lean manufacturing/enterprise to eliminate the eight kinds of waste within a company or organization.
While the origins of some Lean and Six Sigma terms are up for debate, there’s no doubt that they play a major role in every aspect of quality management. So if you’re wondering about the translation and meaning behind these Japanese lean terms, here’s a comprehensive list of the eight terms supporting common Lean principles.
The first one on our list of Japanese quality terms is Kaizen. Kaizen means “change for the better” or “continuous improvement.” It’s a philosophy that focuses on making small improvements in every aspect of life. The goal is to create long-term success through incremental changes and continual improvement.
This term is often used in the business world to describe a company’s process of making small changes to improve efficiency and quality. For example, a company might implement Kaizen principles by streamlining its production process or redesigning its products. While Kaizen is often associated with businesses, it can be applied to any aspect of life. For instance, you could use Kaizen principles to improve your fitness routine or study habits.
The key to Kaizen is that it’s a never-ending journey of self-improvement. There’s always room for improvement, no matter how small. Kaizen can be traced back to the Toyota Motor Corporation’s post-World War II era. Then, the company implemented Kaizen principles to improve its production process and become more efficient.
Nowadays, Kaizen is used by companies all over the world as a way to improve quality and efficiency. Some of the most notable companies that use Kaizen principles include Toyota, Samsung, Honda, and Sony.
The second term on our list is Muri. This term means “overburden” or “overwork.” It’s used to describe a situation where someone is given too much work or responsibility. Muri can lead to problems such as fatigue, mistakes, and accidents. Yet, it’s often seen as a way to improve productivity in the business world.
For example, a company might ask its employees to work longer hours or take on extra assignments to meet deadlines. While this might increase productivity in the short term, it’s not sustainable in the long term. Muri can lead to problems such as absenteeism and employee turnover.
The third term on our list is Mura. Mura means “unevenness” or “inconsistency.” It’s used to describe a situation where there are fluctuations in quality or production. Mura can lead to problems such as waste, defects, and delays. Yet, it’s often seen as a way to improve efficiency in the business world.
For example, a company might use Mura principles to streamline its production process or reduce waste. While this might increase efficiency in the short term, it’s not sustainable in the long term. Mura can lead to issues such as customer dissatisfaction and employee stress.
The fourth term on our list is Muda. Muda means “waste” or “inefficiency”. It’s used to describe anything that doesn’t add value to a product or service. Muda can take many different forms, such as overproduction, defects, and waiting. However, it’s often seen as a way to improve quality in the business world.
For example, a company might use Muda principles to reduce defects or eliminate waste. While this might increase quality in the short term, it’s not sustainable in the long term. In the Toyota Production System, the seven types of waste include:
- Skills underutilization
Not only are the ‘three Ms’ (Muri, Mura, and Muda) important to reduce, the order in which you address them is also crucial. By reducing Mura and Muri, it will be easier to identify and subsequently reduce Muda.
When there is inconsistency or overburden, it becomes difficult to see waste. However, the waste will become more apparent once these issues are addressed.
Originating from the ’60s as part of the official Toyota Production System, Poka-Yoke is a Japanese term that translates to “mistake-proofing” or “fail-safing.” Poka-Yoke is all about preventing mistakes from happening in the first place. It’s a way to ensure quality and consistency by eliminating human error.
There are many different ways to implement Poka-Yoke, but some common methods include color-coding, checklists, and alarms. Poka-Yoke is an important tool to reduce Muda because it helps prevent errors that can lead to waste. While it’s not possible to eliminate human error, Poka-Yoke can help to reduce it.
The final Japanese Lean term on our list is Kata. Kata is a Japanese word that means “form” or “pattern”. In the business world, it’s often used to refer to a standard way of doing things. Kata is all about efficiency and consistency. It’s a way to streamline processes and eliminate waste.
Instead of rushing to fix problems as they arise, Kata is about preventing them from happening in the first place. Plan managers coaching Kata stress the importance of periodic observation, guidance, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. Through Kata, workers learn to identify and solve problems quickly and effectively.
The term Gemba means “the real place”. It’s used to refer to the location where work is done. For example, in manufacturing, the actual place of work refers to the factory floor. The Gemba philosophy is about going to the source of a problem to find a solution. It’s based on the idea that you can’t solve a problem if you don’t understand it.
Gemba walks are a way for managers to observe and identify problems in the workplace. By walking around and observing employees, they can better understand what’s happening on the ground. Gemba walks are an important tool for reducing Muda because they help identify problems and inefficiencies. While Gemba walks are traditionally done in manufacturing settings, they can be applied to any workplace.
8. Genchi Gembutsu
Last but not least is Genchi Gembutsu. This term means “go and see for yourself”. It’s a Japanese phrase that’s often used in business. Genchi Gembutsu is all about getting first hand experience and knowledge. It’s based on the idea that you can’t understand a problem until you’ve seen it yourself.
Managers often hear about an issue from someone else and accept that secondhand information as fact. However, with Genchi Gembutsu, they would see the problem for themselves to get a better understanding of what’s happening. This hands-on approach is an important way to reduce Muda because it helps identify problems quickly and efficiently.
By seeing problems firsthand, managers can develop creative solutions tailored to the specific situation. While it’s not always possible to go and see everything for yourself, Genchi Gembutsu is a valuable tool for reducing Muda.
Why DataMyte Correlates With Japanese Lean Terms
Now that we’ve gone over the most important Japanese Lean terms, let’s look at how they correlate with DataMyte. As we mentioned before, DataMyte is all about data collection and analysis. We believe that data is the key to determining and eliminating waste within a company.
By collecting accurate data through the DataMyte Digital Clipboard,, you can identify problems and inefficiencies in your process. Once you’ve identified a problem, you can use that data to develop a solution that’s tailored to your specific needs.
The DataMyte Digital Clipboard is a workflow automation software that can help make all of these Lean principles easier to execute with its array of productivity and performance features. Some special tools include:
- Workflow builder: use this feature when conducting each of these principles to create custom workflows for your company’s process.
- Checklist builder: create comprehensive checklists for your process to ensure that nothing is missed.
- Flowchart builder: easily create visual representations of your process with this tool.
The DataMyte Digital Clipboard makes it easier to create, collect, analyze and report data to take advantage of whatever lean principle you use. To learn more about how DataMyte can help improve work performance, visit our website or contact our team today.
While these Japanese lean terms represent common quality management practices, having a complete and deep understanding of them is essential to improving your process. So do your best to keep these principles in mind during your quality management journey and see how much progress you can make! And if you need help along the way, don’t forget about DataMyte.