Quality Vocabulary

Simplify processes by learning lean words of wisdom. This is an assortment of the most commonly used terms in lean six sigma, project management, and quality management. 

The person solely responsible for owning a process. Process owners may be a leader/manager or in a non-management position. Process owners are the ones most knowledgeable about the work, do the work most often, and know where the pain points in the process are. Interested in knowing where to improve a process? Ask the process owner where the job hurts. 

Process Owners Are:

  • Subject Matter Experts 
  • Responsible for Getting the Work Done
  • Best Know Where A Process Can Be Improved

RACI Charts are a communications management tool that help show roles and relationships at work. RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. Use RACI Charts to understand who does the work in your organization.

RACI Acronym:

  • Responsible
  • Accountable
  • Consulted 
  • Informed
  • A3  Report: A one page 11″ x 17″ ledger size paper that describes a project/problem. The paper is divided into sections and follows a logical flow. A3s are creative in that the creator can use text, charts, tables, images, and even stick figures to summarize the project or problem.
  • Affinity Diagram: A problem solving, brainstorming tool where individual concepts are placed in similar categories and given a name. The process is usually to write one word on an index card and have group participants move the cards on  a visual board so similar cards are placed next to each other. Each category aka “affinity” is then given a name/label.
  • Andon: A visual device that calls attention to defects, equipment abnormalities, or other problems. Andons typically display problems on a stoplight scale of Red – Yellow – Green. Red for failure more, Yellow for marginal performance, and Green for normal operation mode. 
  • Annual Objectives: In policy deployment, yearly [aligned] objectives that will allow the company to reach it’s 3-5 year breakthrough objectives.
  • Autonomation: Commonly referred to as “intelligent automation”. If an abnormal situation arises the machine in use will stop all production preventing any defective products from being created and wasted due to poor quality.
  • Bottleneck: A place in the value stream with the lowest productivity; a form of constraint. Processes perform at the rate of the bottleneck.  
  • Bowling Chart: A form used to track performance (plan vs. actual) on Policy Deployment objectives. Usually reviewed by top management on a monthly basis.
  • Breakthrough Objectives: In Policy Deployment, objectives that will result in a significant competitive advantage and major stretch for the organization. 
  • Catch Ball: The process of a team member who comes up with a purpose, project, or idea and “throws” it to other stakeholders for feedback and development.
  • Cause and Effect Diagram: A problem solving tool used to establish relationships between effects and multiple causes. Sometimes called a Fishbone Diagram or Ishikawa.
  • Cellular Module: A work area/module that has the total capabilities needed to produce an item or conduct a service; eliminates excess movement.
  • Changeover: Sometimes referred to as “Setup”, but is not the same is the total time it takes from the last good quality finished good to come off a machine until the first good quality good is placed on the machine. Short changeover times are essential to continuous flow.
  • Countermeasure: An action used designed to immediately and directly counteract a problem. There are six types of countermeasures ranging from a simple flag to alert workers of a problem to complete prevention such as the inability to place a diesel fuel nozzle into a regular fuel tank.
  • Data-Driven Decision Making: The process of making decisions based on data rather than opinion or intuition alone. Dr. W. Edwards Deming has the famous quote “In God We Trust, All Others Bring Data.”
  • Defects: A failure in a process or product otherwise known as nonconformance to requirements. A Six Sigma process reports as 3.4 defects per million opportunities. 
  • Defectives: Similar to defects, defectives indicates nonconformance to requirements, however defectives does not perform to specifications and is considered completely unacceptable. 
  • Fishbone Diagram: A cause and effect diagram using a chart that resembles a fish skeleton. 
  • Five Whys: A root cause analysis tool where the problem solver will ask “why” five times whenever a problem is encountered. Repeating the question five times helps identify the root cause of the problem so a solution or countermeasure can be developed. This technique does not always require asking five times, sometimes less or more is appropriate. 
  • Flow: A continuous flow of activities in a value stream with little to no waste (e.g. waiting, defects, overproduction, etc.)
  • Flow Cell: A logical, efficient, and usually self-contained arrangement of supplies, equipment, and personnel to complete a service sequence. Flow cells eliminate excess motion of personnel leaving their work station to complete a task.  
  • Gemba: A Japanese term for “the real place” or “where the work happens”. Six Sigma practitioners will commonly say “Get in the Gemba” meaning go and see how the work is actually performed before making improvement suggestions.
  • Hansei: A Japanese term for deep personal reflection of a mistake and pledging to improve.
  • Heijunka: A Japanese term meaning production leveling that attempts to minimize the impact of peaks and valleys in customer demand. 
  • Hoshin Kanri: A Strategic Planning/Strategic Management methodology also referred to as Policy Deployment or X-Matrix.
  • Inspection: An audit of a work process, task, product or system to confirm conformance to requirements. Is a form of appraisal cost.
  • Jidoka: A Japanese term for a form of automation that automatically inspects each item after producing it. This eliminates the need to notify humans is a defect is detected and eliminates excess inspection/appraisal costs. 
  • Just-In-Time (JIT): A system of managing production processes that result in line-balancing, one-piece flow, and little to no excess material inventory on hand. This strategy works well when a company succeeds in continuous flow and has a healthy supply of suppliers. 
  • Kaizen: A Japanese term for “change for the better”. Is usually conducted as a Kaizen Event also known as a “Rapid Improvement Event” which lasts anywhere from 1-5 days and involves team effort.
  • Kanban: A Japanese term for “sign-board”. Kanban cards are a visual signal that usually contains pertinent information relating the product, service or product. Example: Behind the last packaged good item in a grocery store is a “Sorry, Out of Stock” card which notifies customers and staff alike to the product’s inventory status.
  • Kanban Board: Kanban Boards are a visual project management tool that contains tasks and columns generally written as “To Do”, “In Progress”, and Complete. Team members or other important notes are listed in each column.
  • Key Performance Indicator (KPI): An important value that measures the effectiveness of a company in achieving a business objective. As an example, a company may have customer satisfaction as a business objective and report on survey satisfaction %s as the KPI.
  • Lead Time: the total time it takes for a process to convert a raw material to a finished quality part. As an example, a lab test result may have a lead time of 1 hour before the results are ready.
  • Muda: A Japanese term for waste. Waste doesn’t add value or is unproductive. By removing waste, businesses can become more productive and prosperous.
  • Mura: A Japanese term for unevenness otherwise known as variation. As an example: a provider who has varying wait times of 5 minutes to 60 minutes has a high level of Mura [variation].
  • Muri: A Japanese term for overburden, unreasonableness or absurdity. Muri can be eliminated by deploying standard work. Commonly tasks that cause aggravation or frustration in the workplace are Muri.
  • Nagara: A Japense term for smooth production flow, ideally one piece at a time. Nagara is characterized by synchronization of production processes and maximum utilization of available time, including overlapping of operations where practical. 
  • Non-Value Added (NVA): The steps in a Value Stream that take up time, resources, or space but do not transform the product or meet the needs of the customer. Non-Value activities are waste.
  • Operator Cycle Time: The total time it takes an operator (staff member) to complete one cycle of all the standard work elements in his or her job. Many process improvement projects work to improve operator cycle time including between operators (e.g. why does 1 employee do the job in half the time as another?)
  • PDCA Cycle: Plan-Do-Check-Act. An interative four-step projblem solving process typically used in quality control and in Rapid Improvement Projects. 
  • Paradigm: A fundamental idea about reality, frequently unquestioned and difficult change. 
  • Perfection: A never ending pursuit of the complete elimination of non-value adding waste so that all activities along a value stream create value. 
  • Point of Use: Having everything within arm’s reach. A condition in which all supplies are within arm’s reach and positioned in the sequence in which they are used to prevent extra motion, reaching, lifting, straining, turning or twisting. Point of Use is commonly seen in flow cells. 
  • Poka-Yoke: A Japanese term meaning “common or simple, mistake proof.” A method of preventing errors by putting limits on how an operation can be performed in order to force the correct completion of the operation. Example, USB plug fits only one way, microwave turns off once the door is open, Microsoft Office asks if you’d like to save your document before closing.
  • Policy Deployment: A one-year plan, reflecting the long-term vision and the 3-5 year strategic planning objectives. A planning/implementation process that focuses on a few, major, long term, customer focused breakthrough objectives that are critical to a  company’s long term success. This process links major objectives with specific support plans throughout the organization.
  • Process Map: A type of flow chart that depicts the steps in a process. For advanced process mapping continue education with swimlane process mapping and value stream mapping.
  • Process Owner: The person solely responsible for owning a process. Process owners may be a leader/manager or in a non-management position. Process owners are the ones most knowledgeable about the work, do the work most often, and know where the pain points in the process are. Interested in knowing where to improve a process? Ask the process owner where the most frustrations in their job are.
  • Pull System: Opposite of a “push” system, pull systems require a signal from one process. Commonly used in inventory management where inventory is replenished based on use rather than a schedule or forecast. 
  • Quality: A subjective term for which each person or section has it’s own definition. Some common uses are the characteristics of a product or service that satisfied a stated or implied need, “conformance to requirements”, “fitness for use”, a product or service free of deficiencies. Quality is defined by the customer.   
  • RACI Matrix: A project management tool that defines roles and responsibilities in a work place. RACI is an acronym for responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed. The user of a RACI chart helps with worker expectations, communication, and helps prevent duplicate work.
  • Rapid Improvement Event: Also called “Kaizen Events” involve a small team devoting time over 3-5 days to analyze and improve a narrowly defined targeted issue or process. 
  • Reliability: The probability of a person or product performing its intended function under stated conditions without failure over a given time period. 
  • Repeatability: The variation in a measurement system assigned to inconsistences in how the employee measures the same part or item in the same location.  Can also be used for employee performance, can the employee repeatedly perform at the same quality?
  • Reproducibility: The variation in measurements made by different people under the same circumstances. Example: do employees with the same job task perform at the same level? If not, consistent results may not be reproducible.  
  • Root Cause: A factor that caused a nonconformance and should be addressed with corrective action. Commonly identified with fishbone diagram and 5-why techniques.
  • SIPOC Diagram: A tool used by process improvement teams to identify all relevant elements (suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, customers) of a process improvement project before work beings. Completed in the Define phase of a Six Sigma Project.
  • Stakeholder: Any individual, group or organization that will have a significant impact on or will be significantly impacted by the quality of specific product or service. Managers conducting improvement projects commonly perform stakeholder mapping and stakeholder analysis throughout the life of a project. 
  • Standard Work: The highest quality of work that can be repeated and reproduced. Is a precise description of each work activity, the work sequence of specific tasks and requirements to complete the work activity. Standard work is documented using Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) or One Point Lessons (OPLs). 
  • System: A group of interdependent processes and people that together perform a common mission. Process improvement projects result in an improved work system and may benefit connected processes.
  • Takt Time: The rate of customer demand. Takt Time is calculated by dividing production time by the quantity of product the customer requires in that time. As an example, if a medical provider has 3 patients and 60 minutes to serve them the Takt Time is 20 minutes per patient (3 patients/60 minutes= 20 minutes per patient)
  • Tree Diagram: A management tool that depicts the hierarchy of tasks and subtasks needed to complete an objective. The finished diagram bears a resemblance to a tree. 
  • User: The person who uses the product or service. Commonly, improvement projects are designed to help the user, or end-user who the product or service is delivered to in mind. 
  • Validation: The act of confirming a product or service meets the requirements for which it was intended. Validation is great for measuring the success of a new product/service or already offered products/services through interviews, focus groups, or surveys.
  • Value: The exchange for which the customer pays. Customers typically choose products or services that offer higher value than the competition. Process improvement projects seek to add value and eliminate non-value in business processes.
  • Value Stream: All activities, both value added and non-value added, requried to bring a product from a raw material state into the hands of the customer. Six Sigma companies strive to have less than 15% non-value in their business practices whereas the typically company may have up to 40% non-value (waste).
  • Value Stream Analysis: An analysis of the value stream to identify value added and non-value added activities. 
  • Value Stream Mapping: A pencil-and-paper tool used in two stages. Stage 1, follow a product or service’s path from beginning to end and draw a visual representation of every process in the material and information flow. Second, draw a future state map of how the value should flow. 
  • Visual Management: Managing a workplace through visuals including communication expectations, information, standards, warnings, progress or even metrics. Visuals such as colors, pictures, or symbols simplify the ease of understanding.
  • Voice of the Customer [VOC]: The expressed requirements and expectations of customers relative to products or services. VOC is essential in a continuous improvement project as the end result is to delight the customer. 
  • Waste/Muda: Any activity that consumes resources and produces no added value to the product or service a customer receives. 

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