What is....

A glossary for Continuous Improvement language from Japan 

Continuous Improvement Glossary

‘Continuous Improvement Language’ contains a dazzling amount of (Japanese) terms and abbreviations.

Missing any? Let me know!  


What is Aimai?

Aimai means: Vague, ambiguous.

Used to describe a situation, layout or instruction that is unclear and non-specific and causing confusion.

Even the most critical business process in most companies (yes even within the ones with big names) earn the title AIMAI.
The fact that things nevertheless keep on going, is due to the workforce that seams to be able to perform miracles every day, not due to the smooth and unambiguous processes and organization.


What is an ‘Andon’?

An ‘Andon’ is a visual control device in a production area, typically a lighted overhead display, giving the current status of the production system and alerting team members to emerging problems.


Andon Board

Andon Board

Andon Tower at machine

Andon Tower at machine


Anshin means: Peace of mind, Mindful

Describes the condition where things are made clear and a person’s mind can rest easy from worry.

Business Process Reengineering

Reengineering is about radical change. Business process reengineering (BPR) differs from continuous (incremental) improvement programs that place emphasis on small, gradual changes, of which the object is to improve on what an organization is already doing. It is not about ‘ Kaizen’ (small steps) but about ‘ Kaikaku’  (break-through improvement) in more or less the same way as Makigami is. In the traditionally incremental change to improve business performance, typically one of several forms are taken, e.g., quality (total quality management), automation, reorganization, downsizing, and rightsizing. In contrast, BPR is:

  1. Not just automation, although it often uses technology in creative and innovation ways.
  2. Not just reorganization, although it almost always requires organizational change.
  3. Not just downsizing, although it usually improves productivity.
  4. Not just quality, although it is almost always focused on customer satisfaction and processes that support it.

BPR is a balanced approach that may contain elements of more traditional improvement programs with which it is often confused. However, BPR is much more than that.

First, BPR seeks breakthroughs in important measures of performance rather than incremental improvements.

Second, BPR pursues multifaceted improvement goals, including quality, cost, flexibility, and speed, accuracy, and customer satisfaction concurrently. To accomplish these outcomes, BPR, like lean, TPM, Makigami etc.  adopts a process perspective of the business, while other programs retain functional (departmental) perspectives. It also involves a willingness to rethink how work should be done, even if it means totally discarding current practices if that should prove necessary.

BPR also takes a holistic approach to business improvement, leveraging technology and empowering people, which encompasses both the technical aspects of process (technology, standards, procedures, systems, and controls) and other social aspects (organization, staffing, policies, jobs, career paths, and incentives)

(adapted from Manganelli R.L. and Klein M.M., The Reengineering Handbook, 1994).

A magnificent technique to use in such a BPR process is the makigami process analysis.

Gemba (also Genba)


What is Hanedashi?

Literally “Automatic Discharge”.

The machine throws the produced part automatically out; the operator only charges the machine.


Hiku - Osu



Hoshin Kanri (or Policy Deployment)

What is Hoshin Kanri?

Hoshin Kanri means: Policy Deployment

It is a structured -step by step- approach, cascading the company’s objectives down through hierarchy and functions within the organisation, ending with the implementation of specific improvement projects on the shop floor.

It ensures that every employee can know WHAT has to be achieved, and that all these achievements are in line with each other.

See: Policy Deployment








Lean Manufacturing

Mitsu-Zo (also: Moon shining)


Mizu sumashi


Muda – Mura – Muri




Obeya - Obeyaka

OEE - Overall Equipment Effectiveness


Resilient processes



Shingo Prize



Six Sigma

Small Group Activity - SGA

SMED - Single Minute Exchange of Dies


TPM - Total Productive Manufacturing

WCM - World Class Manufacturing