Blog reader Kevin wrote with this excellent question (used with his permission):
My question is about the idea I see many using in the lean blogosphere…and that being the continued and rampant use of Japanese terms when dealing with lean.
I have no inherent problem with these terms per se, I’ve been to Japan and love the culture, and the terms are 100% correct but as a lean implementer and leader of a lean group I don’t allow those terms to be used. The simple reason being that using terms in their truest form like, “gemba”, “muri, mura, and muda”, “kaizen”, etc make the perception of the activity jaded in the eyes of your customer, that being the operator on the floor and other members of any implementation.
I mean no disrespect to those that use these terms, but to me it seems that to the operator, when you say “let’s go to gemba” instead of “let’s hit the shop floor” or something similar, that the perception from the operator and others may be “Who the hell is this guy and why is he using all these fancy words that I don’t understand?”
Therefore, I don’t use them or permit them to be used. I translate these terms into the simplest form possible for my intended audience, so it doesn’t appear that I’m trying to be a “typical” manager in the eyes of my customer or perhaps using words that seem scary or out-of-place to those I’m wanting to help.
Like Thomas Jefferson said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” and Ohno stating that “The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we don’t recognize”….since ultimately you are going to have to explain what these Japanese terms mean then you are in fact violating both men’s prophetic words? What are others thoughts and experiences?
My response to his question was this:
I do my best to avoid all but the most common terms, like kanban, gemba, and kaizen. I introduce those terms in initial team and staff training, but just so people are aware if they see the terms in the literature – heijunka, poka yoke, jidoka…. I always emphasize that we shouldn’t try to wow anyone with our use of Japanese terms…
I know there will be disagreement about this — what do you think? What do you practice?
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