A New Look at Lean

When Six Sigma became the new darling of at least part of the quality world several years ago, many criticized it as being tried and true tools dressed up in a new package. Actually, some Six Sigma proponents agreed with that assessment, which has arguably applied to total quality management and other methodologies that enjoyed their own heydays.

Lean doesn’t seem to generate the same arguments even as it continues to grow in use and popularity. Recently more and more organizations have begun to “discover” lean. In reality they’re rediscovering it. Toyota brought lean to the United States in 1984; the principles it’s based on arose in Japan shortly after World War II. And Japanese engineers derived those principles from—guess who?—U.S. automakers, who had used similar concepts going back to the days of Henry Ford. (Do you notice a familiar theme here?)

Today lean appears not just in manufacturing (see “Clean House With Lean 5S,” p. 27) but also in service (“Lean Thinking for Knowledge Work,” p. 33) and even healthcare (“Lean Six Sigma Reduces Medication Errors” in the April issue). The pairing of lean with Six Sigma is a relatively new and growing phenomenon, with many organizations viewing lean’s focus on reducing waste as a natural companion to Six Sigma’s focus on reducing variation.

Between its venerable history in manufacturing and its recent forays into more of the mainstream, lean has accumulated its own rich vocabulary. You’ll find a useful glossary starting on p. 41.

In a complex field like quality, such a glossary can be a valuable tool. The QP quality glossary (available online under the About Quality tab on www.asq.org) averages more than 10,000 page views a month. One of its most popular sections, the “Quirky Quality Dictionary,” arose as a creative outlet for the QP editorial staff: coining puns and new words starting with “q.”

After we published the original edition in 2002, we received dozens of suggested additions from readers, which appeared in 2003 (available to members at www.asq.org/data/subscriptions/qp/2003/0803/95quirkyQuality0803.html; URL is case sensitive). That edition included such creative entries as “quasino” (a gathering place for persons untrained in statistical analysis) and “qoffee/qola” (primary food group for quality professionals).

Since then, we’ve received a few more submissions:

  • Qurriculum: What you have to study for your ASQ certification exam.
  • Qabal: Quality gang sworn to advance quality.
  • Qosmo: A leading publication in lean manufacturing.

With that last submission, we have our first entry in a lean version of the “Quirky Quality Dictionary.” If you’d like to share your creativity—either with lean or general quality terms—please submit them to editor@asq.org.

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