Though many of the principles of Improvement have been around for a long time, just like a new language, there are terms that are used that may be unknown by those new to the subject.  Listed below are the main topics in an A to z format:

(Though we would like to think that we know absolutely everything about Continuous Improvement, it is inevitable that we have missed something or only provided a partial definition. If you think something is missing or needs editing, do please let us know and contact us).

Just click on each term to expand it and read the definition.


Proportion of planned production time used to manufacture product.

Availability% = (Planned Production Hours – Stoppage hours) / Planned Production Hours


(Stoppages include: Breakdowns, planned maintenance, changeovers, no manpower or materials)



Structured process to compare operational performance within industry sector or best practise organisations. Benchmarking is used to identify performance gaps of an organisation and to highlight areas of potential improvements.

Best Practise

Any system, process or method which an organisation uses, which provides competitive advantage. Understanding and implementing best practise will help an organisation’s operational performance improve.


Process which determines the maximum capacity available to an organisation. Improving performance of this process will lead to increases in company output or sales.


Cellular Manufacturing

Method of organising manufacturing assets for similar product types to maximise operational efficiency and flexibility

Changeover Time

Total downtime from last manufactured part through until first good part after process change. This time is lost available time.

Continuous Improvement

Where an organisation is constantly striving to improve operation efficiency through the involvement of its entire workforce.

Control Charts

A development of run charting to include either specification or statistical control limits. A process that is out of control or specification should be addressed to avoid poor quality or waste.

Critical Path

Critical path is the minimum amount of time a process or project should take. Any delays to these activities will lead to a delay in the overall cycle or project time.

Cross Functional Teams

Teams made up of representatives of departments or areas affected by or who can influence an issue or improvement activity.


Design for Manufacture

Method to improve the manufacturability of a product by reducing component parts or operations prior to introduction.

Design of Experiments

Statistical method of reducing the number of trials required to prove the relationships between process inputs and outputs.


Stands for “Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control.” The structured approach used in Process Excellence (6- Sigma) to improve operational performance through reducing process variability


Error Proofing

Simple method of ensuring a defect or incorrect process cannot occur. (See Poke O)


Five C/Five S

Five stage process to improve workplace organisation, the steps are Clear out (Seison), Clean and Check (Sheiri), Configure (Seiton), Conformity (Seiketsu) and Custom and Practise (Shitsuke).  The Five C process is considered to be the cornerstone of continuous improvement because people believe the can make a significant difference.

Five Why

A method of questioning to establish root cause of a problem. By asking Why? 5 times the root cause of a problem can be established.


“Failure Mode Effect Analysis.” Method of ranking potential failure modes based on severity, occurrence and potential detection.


“Failure Mode Effect and Criticality Analysis.” Method of ranking potential failure modes of equipment based on Severity, occurrence and equipment criticality. The ranking system can then be used to determine the maintenance strategy for plant equipment.

Functional Villages

Areas in a process where only one operation is carried out. i.e. Painting or welding in manufacturing or data input or form checking in administration. This results in inventory of the product or data between the villages which increases lead times.


GANTT Charts

A graphical method of illustrating the time relationship between different steps in a process or project.


Gemba is the Japanese word for Workplace.  The basis of the Toyota Production System (TPS) is that “Management begins at the workplace”

Gross Margin

The difference between product sales price and the variable cost of manufacture. Used to calculate the potential benefit of improvement activity


Hidden Plant

Unrealised capacity of bottleneck processes, which is highlighted through the use of OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness).


Improved Mousetrap Syndrome

The situation where a cheap, basic and functional product is re-invented and replaced with something that does essentially the same thing and, while potentially better,  costs more. While it is possible to design a new mousetrap, new technology doesn’t guarantee any additional demand in the market. Further reading.


The International Standards Organisation, responsible for ratifying all countries standard agencies (e.g. BSI)

ISO 9000

This is the ISO’s international quality standard. Accreditation to the standard implies that a company or organisation follow standard processes in its business practises.



“Just in Time Manufacture.” To manufacture product or products at the time of need by an organisations customer. True JIT manufacture requires the full implementation of Lean principles



Kaizen is the Japanese name for continuous improvement. Kaizen is used to describe team based improvement activities which are used to drive sustained incremental improvements within the workplace.


The single to a process to start manufacture a given quantity of product. The Kanban method pull product through a manufacturing operation


Lean Manufacturing

A Lean organisation strives to reduce all types of waste to improve its operational performance and flexibility. This is a continuous process of ongoing incremental improvement.

Lean Sigma

The combination of lean principles and process excellence to improve operational performance.

Loss Accounting

The process to identify, quantify and root cause performance losses. The ongoing process will help drive continuous improvement.


Maintenance Strategy

An organisation’s approach to equipment reliability


“Management Control and Reporting Systems.”A structured approach to relate business objectives to performance measurement throughout the organisation.

Manufacturing Assessments

Structure method of assessing a manufacturing operation and to highlight performance gaps and potential improvement activity

Manufacturing Improvement Program

Longer term facilitated improvement program which will drive culture change and operational improvement, through all business processes.


Structured medium term facilitated improvement program, where a cross functional team works on delivering improvement in a specific area.


Measurement is the basis of all improvement activity. Measurement will allow an organisation to understand its current position and potential areas of improvement.


Japanese word for waste. MUDA address all aspects of wasted effort, characterised within the seven wastes; Waiting, Transportation, Inappropriate processing, Inventory, Bad Quality, Motion and Overproduction.



“Not Right First Time.” Percentage of product manufactured that does not meet customer specification first time. This measure includes all scrap and rework.


NRFT = Number of batches manufactured which do not meet customer specification first time

Total Batches Manufactured



“On Time and Full.” Percentage of customer orders that arrive on time and in full.


OTIF = Number of customer orders delivered on time and in full      x    100%

Total number of customer orders


“Overall Equipment Effectiveness.” A measure which shows the proportion of time a piece of equipment manufactures good quality product against its potential capacity.


OEE = %Availability X % Performance x %Quality (X %Yield)

All data should be collated for the same period of time.



“Plan Do Check Act Cycle.” Also known as the “Demming Improvement Cycle.” Check, this is where the results of an improvement activity are checked against the expected outcome. Act, this is where further potential improvements are identified. Plan, this is where the implementation of practical improvement are agreed. Do the implementation of improvement activity.


During the available time, the percentage of product manufactured against theoretical (or best demonstrated) rate.


Performance =                       Actual Manufacturing Rate                                         X 100%

Best Demonstrated Manufacturing Rate




Performance =                            Total products manufactured                                   X 100%

(Best Demonstrated rate x available time)


Process Centre for Manufacturing Excellence

Policy Deployment

Structured process of aligning activities at all levels of the business to the overall business strategy. This is done through the cascading performance goals and objectives throughout the organisation.  The goals and objectives are relevant to each level of the organisation.

Root Cause Problemsolving

A structured team based approach to identify potential causes and solutions to an operational issue

Process Excellence (6 Sigma)

A structured method to improve operational performance. The approach utilises a series of statistical tools to reduce process variability.

Process Control

Method of controlling a manufacturing process to minimise waste

Process Mapping

A graphical method to represent the steps or stages of a process. The technique is often used to improve the understanding of all cross functional team members.



(OEE Calculation)Percentage of product manufactured which meets customer specification.


Quality =   Proportion of Good Quality product manufactured in available time        X 100%

Total product manufactured in available time


Red Tags

Simple visual system to identify production area or equipment defects or areas of potential improvement.


Schedule Adherence

A measure of an organisations ability to meet it’s manufacturing schedule or plan.


Schedule Adherence = Planned orders manufactured in planned period                   X  100%

Total Planned orders to be manufactured in planned period

Seven Wastes

A way of identifying inefficiencies in processes.  The wastes are:

Inventory: High stocks of raw materials, work in progress and finished goods are a waste of the companies money

Transport: Unnecessary movement on materials and equipment.  Movement of empty forklift trucks.

Process: Using inappropriate equipment or process  – (using a ‘sledge hammer to crack a nut’).

Idle Time: The operator, machine or process waiting for something to happen

Operator Movement: Excessive bending, stretching, lifting and twisting.

Bad Quality: Production of bad quality product wastes material and time.

Over Production: Making ahead of time and over running an unstable process.  This is the worst of all because all other wastes are involved.

Single Piece Flow

The optimum method of manufacturing where only one unit of product is made at a time when requested by a processes customer


“Single Minute Exchange of Dies.” A structured approached to reduce changeover times through the use of cross functional teams.


“Statistical Process Control.” A method to determine whether a process is in statistical control before it deteriorates and affect product quality

Standard Operation Procedures

Simple operation procedures (which often include pictures and photographs) that are located at the workplace to assist in the training and operation of a process.


The setting and adherence of operational standards in manufacturing is fundamental to deliver consistent manufacturing performance

Stock Turns

A calculation to determine how an organisation is utilising its working capital


Stock Turns  =                                  Annual Turnover                                                  .

Value of Raw Materials   +  Work in Progress   + Finished Goods Stock

Supply Chain

The complete network from raw material suppliers to end users involved in product manufacture.


Toyota Production System

The basis for all lean manufacturing and improvement tools and techniques


“Total Productive Maintenance.” A method to improve equipment reliability through measurement, improved maintenance practice and operator involvement and ownership.


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Value Stream

A group of products, customers or processes that have similar characteristics.

Value Stream Mapping

A structured method for identifying the information and material flows for a Value stream from customer to supplier.  This includes measurement of Value Added time vs Lead time and inventory levels in relation to demand in days.  This allows identification of waste in the overall process that can be eliminated.

Visual Control

A method to improve operational control through the use of visual display. Visual Control examples include colour coded gauges and visible oil level indicators

Visual Display

The display of operational performance indicators so as to involve all members of the organisation

Visual Management

The concept improving the information flow throughout the organisation by using Visual Control and Display techniques


World Class Manufacturing

A world class organisation is said to embody all aspects of best practise and lean principles. It can be favourable compared to organisations in any field



Just kidding! You try thinking of something beginning with X that isn’t “Xylophone!”



Proportion of theoretical raw materials required to manufacture given amount of product against actual volume used.



Yield  =       Theoretical amount of raw materials required to product volume          X  100%

Actual amount of raw material used


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