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Part 7 of our series on the 7 Common Mistakes Made with Lean or Six Sigma Initiatives. Click the link to see the rest of the list.

Language is important. Lean was born out of an attempt to copy successful practices from Toyota and other Japanese companies. This resulted in the use of Japanese words to describe things that could better be described with plain English, particularly when talking to an American workforce. Is it really necessary to talk about your teacher/mentor as your ‘Lean Sensei’, or call an improvement event a ‘Kaizen’ event? No, of course not! So why do it?

SMED is another term that is not always useful. SMED stands for Single Minute Exchange of Die and, while not a foreign language term, is absolutely NOT useful in an organization that doesn’t change out dies. We were working with a new client helping a young black belt collapse a major maintenance shutdown on a key piece of equipment. The black belt and his team did a masterful job implementing custom toolboxes and reducing the duration of the outage by days. At the project review the Master Black Belt (who loved to talk about his Sensei) publicly ripped the black belt for not using SMED and several other Japanese named improvement tools. The black belt was rightfully upset about this treatment and confronted us about why those tools had not been used.

This was a US Steelworker Union plant with Union members, including the union’s Treasurer, on the team. As the team analyzed the outage they were taught, in a logical fashion, how to problem solve appropriately. They had in fact learned and applied every one of the tools and techniques mentioned. What they didn’t learn was how to make things more complicated by using names that confuse and raise barriers.

Making common sense common practice requires simple language that is understood.

If you or your organization is making any of these common mistakes and you would like to learn more, please contact us.

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