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  • Writer's pictureMark Fitzsimmons

Stop Confusing People with Lean Six Sigma Jargon!

A funny thing happened on my way to becoming a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. I learned a new language: Lean Speak. What’s fascinating is that I didn’t realize it at the time. It just happened. Admittedly, it’s not a well know language, but it is used pervasively by Lean and Six Sigma practitioners who try to convince people to adopt and use it.

In all seriousness, too many of us, regardless of what we do or where we work, tend to use language, acronyms or jargon no one else understands. It only means something to a sub-set of people. And that’s a problem. To those who don’t happen to work for our particular organization, or who work in another department, or in a different function; we use a vernacular that makes it difficult for the recipient to understand what we really mean. A smile and a nod isn’t always a good thing. Maybe they misunderstand us and do something different than what we intended, or maybe they just don’t care enough to tell us they don’t know what we’re talking about.

Too many organizations use terminology or jargon or acronyms that confuse outsiders. It makes it harder to convey important information because the message gets lost in translation. I can’t stress enough that there’s tremendous value in using words that are easily understood by stakeholders, rather than confusing things unnecessarily.

In the case of Lean Six Sigma, it’s particularly worrisome because we’re often working on issues that are the most important to the organization. If we confuse matters by using unnecessarily complicated language, we risk costing the business. It could be financial, it could be customer related, or it could be that employees simply don’t buy in to what we’re trying to do.

We use terms like Muda (waste) and Kanban (signboard) and kaizen (change for the better) and a litany of other words that only insiders know. And while these terms might sound impressive, they really represent straightforward ideas.

I was in Tokyo, Japan a while back and had the good fortune of being invited to visit a heavy equipment manufacturer. While I was incredibly impressed by the adoption of ‘Lean thinking’ and saw many Lean practices being used, from their perspective they were just going about their business. It wasn’t a program or initiative and they didn’t use fancy or confusing words.

Too many practitioners use words or phrases that relate to their Japanese origin. Muda is the Japanese word for waste. In Japan it makes sense to call it muda. So why do Lean Six Sigma practitioners use it outside of Japan? Similarly, we hold “kaizen events”. The words “kai” and “zen” translate to change for the better. Shouldn’t we simply say that? When we use words like Kanban, Hoshin Kanri, Gemba and others; we do a disservice to the people who are turned off of it because of the confusing language. People who might benefit tremendously if only we communicated the ideas better.

Lean Six Sigma is an information driven approach used to optimize processes and enable you to consistently deliver value to your key stakeholders. The goal is to perpetuate continual improvement towards perfection; perfection through the lens of the customer. Shouldn’t that be every organizations goal? Don’t we have an obligation to give to our customers what they asked and paid for?

At 360 Degrees, we’re pragmatic in our use of Lean Six Sigma. We use only the tools that make the most sense for each situation. We help enable companies to identify and focus on the process changes that will quickly make the biggest differences, ensuring faster results with smaller initial investment.

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