4 Complicated Words vs. 4 Easy Ones


My friend and guest blogger Liz Guthridge (“The Lean Communicator”) would get a kick out of this.

I was at a meeting recently and a speaker, with a background from a very famous global consulting firm, had this phrase as part of a slide:

“Integration requires a synchronization mechanism.”

I guess you don't get paid big consulting bucks for saying “Work as a team.” That was absolutely the point, simply put, that he was trying to get across.

Let's not try to overcomplicate things, when talking about Lean, innovation, or what have you.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. So, so true. Simple, everyday language, in my experience, helps get people involved sooner. And the sooner people get involved, the sooner a culture of improvement can start to grow. To me, the KISS principle applies well to improvement work – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

  2. Gotta disagree on this one. You can say “we must work as a team” and everyone will nod their head up and down. But until you actually translate that into actionable steps, it does no good.

    When I read the phrase it instantly caused me to think, “What ARE my team’s synchronization mechanisms? Are they formal or mostly ad-hoc? How can I strengthen those mechanism with my suppliers and customers? Etc.”

    So, as much as I enjoy picking fun at high-paid global consulting firms (), I think precision and specificity is important in improving Lean management systems.

    Walter Reade (from Wisconsin)

  3. Mark,

    I met a guy once who’s master’s thesis was, “Asynchronous Synchronization of Non-Synchronous Data.”

    Maybe I should ask him to clarify! LOL

    But I get your point. To me, the phrase means something. To others, it might not.

    Reminds me of the time I was talking to a group of operators about autonomous control of defects. Not the type of language they typically use. :-)


  4. It didn’t translate for me as simple as “work as a team”. I read the phrase and I think it is more specific to the timing of team activities. You have to have some form of visual control or other communication tool that let’s each team member know just when the next activity needs to take place. When to have equipment ready to turn over the OR room, when to order a bed..etc.

    maybe a kanban card or smed

  5. Lucas:

    I gather you weren’t hearing about teamwork as a model behavior (i.e., trust, working through conflict, commitment, etc., as in Lencioni’s teamwork model, my favorite) but rather work group coordination through a series of hand-offs, resource allocations, and so on: the nuts and bolts of getting things done across groups, shifts, etc.

    You may be on the mark with your comments about visual displays (vs. visual control, to make the distinction of Gwen Galsworth’s terminology) as a “synchronization mechanism”. Visual displays are among the reliable methods that lean thinkers have used successfully in this context. We’ve had good success (and a lot of fun) designing and developing them for very particular applications through simulation exercises. Lessons learned: be inclusive, keep “rule 2” (connections) in front of the group, and don’t think you’re done after the first couple of PDCA cycles.

    Still, I have to agree with Mark! Multisyllabic Long words get in the way when short ones will do. My son is at home on spring break and reading literary criticism, a worst case scenario for this problem!! The syllable-to-sense ratio is off the charts. As the sign on my 8th grade speech teacher’s wall said: “Eschew obfuscation!”

  6. This really hits home for me right now. We’ve been developing some lean sigma yellow belt training for our department, human resources. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get the language just right. I’ve always been thought of as someone who can explain concepts in simple terms, but working with an expert in adult learning has helped me see areas for improvement. She reminded me to “know your customer.” What will the words we use mean to them? Will they get it? If they have to guess what “Integration requires a synchronization mechanism” means, or we waste time wording it that way in the first place or explaining it to the audience when we get the “deer in the headlights” look, then we’ve definitely missed the point. Now if I could only write comments with fewer words…..

  7. Where, oh where is the Bullfighter software when you need it? (This software from a few years back works with Window XP and older versions of Microsoft Word and PowerPoint to help you find and then avoid jargon. The former Deloitte employees who wrote the book “Why Business People Speak Like Idiots” championed the software.)

    Nevertheless, I ran this sentence, “Integration requires a synchronization mechanism.” through the Word readability statistics, which is available on all Word versions.

    The grade level was a mind-numbing 21.7! By contrast, newspapers write at the 8th grade level. And I suggest to corporate folks that we strive for 10.4–high enough to allow for technical words but low enough to make it somewhat easy and fast for people to understand. (All of us and especially those for whom English is a second language.)

    Did you notice that almost everyone who’s commented on this post has a different interpretation of the sentence?

    So respect people, including their time. Say and write what you mean clearly and concisely. Practice LEAN COMMUNICATIONS!
    .-= Liz Guthridge ´s last blog ..Get Conference Tips and Themes from a LEAN Summit Groupie =-.

  8. I didn’t get a chance to ask him why he used that phrase (and other complicated consultant speak). He said it meant, as he was talking to the slide “people need to work as a team.”

  9. I just read an HBR article from the March 2010 issue. In light of this discussion, I got a kick from a sentence that said different companies may follow different strategies during a recession because “differences in executives’ cognitive orientation during a crisis.”

    Differences in “cognitive orientation”?!?

    I’m impressed. It’s definitely going into my vocabulary. (“And on slide 42, we clearly show the contradistinctions between the Conventional and the Lean Cognitive Orientations.”)


    Walter Reade (from Wisconsin)


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