Lean Terminology

The 3M’s

“.. Above all, one of our most important purposes was increased productivity and reduced cost.

To achieve this purpose, we put our emphasis on the notion of eliminating all kinds of unnecessary functions in the factories.

Our approach has been to investigate one by one the causes of various “unnecessaries” in manufacturing operations and to devise methods for their solution, often by trial and error …”

Taiichi Ohno

Ohno created three definitions in order to focus his team on achieving these objectives:

Muda is an activity that is Wasteful and does not add Value or is unproductive.

Mura is the term for Unevenness, irregularity or inconsistency in the things we do

Muri is the term for Overburden of equipment, processes and people


Waste (Muda)

Lean describes waste in a number of ways and these are associated with the activities that we are engaged in when we create something for a customer, whether that be a product or service. Waste is all the same and in every process – it just looks little different.

The 8 Wastes

  • Transport – moving material or products more and further than is necessary.
  • Inventory – raw material, Work-in-Progress or Finished Goods represents capital outlay that has not yet produced income. Any of these three items not being actively processed to add Value is Waste. This can also include any unnecessary inventory, such as unneeded extra parts at a jobsite, the unplanned storage of parts due to over production, inventory kept as backup or excess amounts of inventory between processes.
  • Motion – any movement of people that is not necessary to complete a task.
  • Waiting – the idle time of people, machines or information between or during an operation.
  • Over Processing – any time that more work or processing is done on an item than required by the customer.
  • Over Production – producing items too early or in too greater quantity not intended for immediate use or sale.
  • Defects – producing defective goods or mishandling materials, including the waste inherent in reworking parts/products/documents not made correctly in the first place.
  • Skills – not utilizing the skills and knowledge of people within the organisation and not creating the right environment and level of empowerment for teams to excel.

You will see from the definitions that there is a very high probability that these Wastes exist in any process in any part of the business. The challenge is being able to see them – some are obvious but others are often hidden.


Unevenness (Mura)

Mura is unevenness, irregularity or inconsistency in productivity and quality.

Often the normal way of doing our work involves high-pressure cycles. Work goes along slowly most of the time only to be snowploughed into end of day or end of month pressure. We try and meet a host of activities to meet customer demand over a compressed time period.


Overburden (Muri)

Muri is the unreasonable work that is imposed on machines, people and processes. It is pushing beyond natural limits and may simply be asking a greater level of performance from a process than it can handle



This is a Japanese word that in business refers to the place where value is created;

In manufacturing the Gemba is the factory floor, however, it can be any “place” such as a construction site, administration area, design office, sales floor or even where the service provider interacts directly with the customer. “This is the place where the work is done” and so can be anywhere in the organization, where activities are being undertaken that help deliver Value for the Customer.

We often talk about the fact that if you really want to understand what is happening in the organization you need to “go to the Gemba and see”.


Vision, Mission and Value Statements

The key components of ‘strategic planning’ include an understanding of the firm’s Vision, Mission and Values and are often captured in a Vision Statement, a Mission Statement and a Values Statement. (Goals are sometimes used instead of Missions)

Carefully crafted, these clear Statements can powerfully communicate your intentions and motivate your team or organisation to realize an attractive and inspiring common Vision of the future. They are the inspiring words chosen by leaders to clearly and concisely convey the direction of the organisation and become powerful drivers in a company’s culture. The best statements become catalysts for action.



Jidoka refers to the ability of machines to “sense” a malfunction or abnormality within itself, or with the quality of the product, and automatically stop the process. This quality ‘fail-safe’ feature helps build quality in the ‘process’ rather than relying on end of process inspection.

Jidoka also refers to the ability of people to stop a process when they identify a defect or other abnormality and has a strong relationship with Andon.



A simple translation of Andon is ‘lantern’ in Japanese. It is a means of signalling that there is some problem occurring and this signal is commonly an electrical light box which at a glance shows the current state of operations.

Andon signals are commonly generated by the the people working in the process and when they discover an abnormality they activate the Andon and support staff come to assist them and help resolve the problem. Because the Andon is a highly visible control this allows for a speedy response from supporting departments and allows recovery time caused by the issue to be minimized.



This is a workplace arrangement and housekeeping tool that has the immediate effect of removing waste, creating a very different environment to work in and improving Health and Safety. The 5S’s are:

Sort: Remove all unnecessary materials, parts, equipment and information

Set-in-Order: Arrange the remaining materials, parts, equipment and information close the work area so they are easily identified and accessed

Sweep and Shine: Regularly clean and inspect the work area and equipment to maintain a high standard of housekeeping. Inspect with an eye for improvement – how can you prevent the environment deteriorating.

Standardize: Establish policies and procedures to ensure that 5S is maintained and continuously improved

Sustain: Training the team, auditing the standard and maintaining the disciplines of 5S will lead to habitual compliance, minimum waste, a stunning clean, safe and visual environment, and a highly motivated team