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Lean Reference Guide > Lean Dictionary

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"B" Terms
from The Continuous Improvement Companion

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  • Back Office / Front Office

    The terms ‘back office’ and ‘front office’ refer to customer contact. Those that have direct customer contact are the front office. Others who work in administrative roles are the ‘back office’. The terms originally came from the physical layout of an office building, but with the advent of improved communication, the delineation is murkier. Many people now spend all day in contact with customers on the phone and via electronic communication, and hence have many front office characteristics, despite never seeing a customer face-to-face.

    Note that back office work can still be related to individual customers, but may not directly contact them. A person processing loan application falls into this category. Other back office functions, such as engineering and HR indirectly support customers in the aggregate.

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  • Backflush

    Backflushing is an accounting method that can also be used to manage inventory. It is also known as “postproduction issuing.” When an item is purchased by a customer, the appropriate materials and other resources are issued to the order. The inventory levels in the system of all components on the bill of materials are also reduced. When the inventory reaches a prescribed level, an order is placed.

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  • Backsliding

    Backsliding it the act of reverting to a pre-improvement process.

    If you were to plot improvement over time on a run chart, backsliding would give the curve a saw-tooth look to it. A gain followed by a drop, followed by a gain and another drop.

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  • Backups (Employee)

    Employee backups are the people who fill in when the regular operator is absent.

    Having backups implies something. It means that the team has regularly assigned positions and does little or no job rotation.

    In great Lean companies, standard work is in full force and people rotate in and out of positions regularly. This reduces the need for backups because there are already many people crosstrained for each work area.

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  • Baka Yoke

    Baka yoke is the Japanese term for ‘foolproofing’ or ‘idiot proofing’. Needless to say, it is not the most politically correct of terms, and has been replaced in common use by poka yoke, or ‘mistake proofing.’

    The principle is the same for both terms. Prevent mistakes rather than correct defects. The subtle difference between baka yoke and poka yoke is that the focus changes from the person (fool or idiot) to the process or action (mistake).

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  • Balanced Scorecard

    The Balanced Scorecard is a management tool developed by Robert Kaplan and David Norton and published in their book titled The Balanced Scorecard. The book focuses on four areas:

    • Financial performance
    • Customer knowledge
    • Internal business processes
    • Learning and growth

    The term ‘balanced’, as explained in their preface, is many faceted. It compares short and long term, financial and non-financial measures, lagging and leading indicators, and external and internal performance. The authors stress that the balanced scorecard is a management system, not a measurement system.

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  • Bar Charts

    Bar charts are generally used to differentiate between the values of a parameter for ‘buckets’ of data. The length of the bar shows the relative value of that data point.

    Bar Chart (Horizontal)

    Bar Chart (Vertical)

    That just means that the bars represent a group, such as types of fruit in these examples, and the longer the bar, the higher the number. The parameter can be anything—number sold, acres planted, or people choosing it as their favorite fruit.

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  • Barrier to Entry

    Barriers to entry are the variety of factors that keep new entrants from competing in a particular industry. It may be the strength of the brands of the incumbents. It may be the cost of developing competing technology. It may be access to raw materials or distribution channels. It may even be perceived loyalty of major customers. The equipment needed to manufacture the products may be prohibitively expensive.

    Whatever the reason, whether real or imagined, companies must take the factor into consideration when deciding on their strategy. If the cost of competing is too high, they are unlikely to enter the market.

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  • Barriers to Flow

    Most continuous improvement efforts, either directly or indirectly, are centered on improving flow. Flow is the condition where work moves from one process to the next without stopping. Improving flow means taking out all the efficiencies that keep that continuous movement smooth and direct.

    When flow doesn’t exist, it is not because it is unwanted. Even the most batch-oriented manufacturer would prefer flow, but they see many reasons why flow is not practical. These reasons—the things, both real and imagined, are known as barriers to flow.

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  • Baseline

    Baselines are essential to improvements. They are the starting point for a process to be changed, or are reference points for ongoing processes. Baselines can be used in two main ways.

    First, they can be used to establish current conditions prior to a project. This is essential to knowing …

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  • Baseline Metrics / Baseline Measures

    A baseline is a snapshot of the state of a process or operation prior to making improvements. In effect, it is the ‘before’ measures of a process.

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  • Batch and Queue

    In traditional manufacturing, there is a tendency to run large lots, or batches. This occurs for a variety of reasons—large distances between processes, long setup times, or simply poor processes.

    When the batch is transferred to the downstream process, it sits in line, the ‘queuing’ part of batch and queue.

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  • Batch Manufacturing (+Video)

    Batch manufacturing is the ‘traditional’ form of manufacturing where production is completed in lots of various size, and the lots are passed along en masse to the next step. Typically, layouts in batch manufacturing are done by function—a weld shop, a paint shop, a fabrication shop, etc.

    Another name for batch manufacturing is ‘batch and queue’. It gets this name for obvious reasons. Products are produced, and then are shipped to the next process, where they sit in line waiting to be worked on.

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  • Batches

    Batches are groups of products that go through a process together. Batches work against the Lean principle of flow, because the first parts that are produced have to wait until the rest of the parts are completed before they can all move to the downstream process.

    Batches tend to drive up inventory. It is rare that the batches meet the exact needs of the downstream process, so the completed work sits until it is used.

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  • Bells and Whistles

    “Bells and Whistles” are the extras on a product…or on a process.

    On a product, bells and whistles are the features that enhance the product, but don’t significantly change the function. Years ago, power windows were part of the bells and whistles packages that carmakers used to distinguish cars from their competitors. Nowadays, backup sensors and blind spot detection are the extras.

    Bells and whistles often drift from extras to essentials as Lean customers come to expect the item and every competitor offers them.

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  • Benchmarking

    Benchmarking is simply the practice of finding someone who does something well and using it as a reference to gather set the bar for improvement. This can be done within the same industry (i.e. comparisons to competitors), or in other industries to spur revolutionary thinking.

    One frequently overlooked opportunity for benchmarking is within the same company. This may be under the same roof (accounting has found a great way to tag files on their hard disks), or in a separate division. With the rampant acquisitions going on today, many companies now have numerous organizations in their own ranks that they can benchmark.

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  • Best Practices

    The term ‘best practice’ is commonly used to describe a standout process that is the best known way to do something. ‘Best practice’ is really a misnomer. There is no such thing as a ‘best’ practice—only a ‘best known practice’.

    The term itself goes contrary to the whole premise of continuous improvement—that things can always be made better. Don’t let yourself get complacent because you come up with a ‘best practice’.

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  • Beta Risk

    Beta risk, statistically speaking, is the risk associated with accepting a null hypothesis when it is actually false. In other words, beta risk is a false negative in which a product is said to be free of defects when it actually has one.

    Beta risk is also known as a Type-II error, or consumer’s risk.

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  • Better, Not Perfect (+ 5-Page Lean PDF)

    Better, Not Perfect Lean Term on PDF

    When resources are limited, getting better is more important than becoming perfect. It takes a lot of resources to get close to perfection, and most companies still have a lot of other opportunities in areas that are not yet even good. Allocate resources wisely.

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  • Bias (In Data Collection)

    There are two ways to look at the term ‘bias’. Let’s start with the technical, statistical way. It is the systematic error component, or the difference between what the observed average is and what the actual average is. That just says, in a fancy way, that your sample or observation matches reality.

    In some cases, you recognize that your system has bias. You might identify a problem where a measuring device reads consistently off. Perhaps you have a stop on a cutting device that has shifted, so the ruler adds a quarter inch to each piece that you are cutting. Or you might have a tape measure where the little metal tab is getting loose—and adds an eighth of an inch to every measurement. This is most commonly identified when another instrument that is accurate measures the same item and a discrepancy is noted.

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  • Bimodal Distribution

    A bimodal distribution is a distribution that has two separate and distinct peaks in it. A distribution of a data set describes the relative frequency of the occurrence of outcomes within each defines set of ranges.

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  • Birdcage

    The term ‘Birdcage’ has two basic meanings in continuous improvement.

    The most common usage applies to when a work area encloses a person, trapping them inside. It is usually commonly applied to manufacturing areas where material racks and workbenches isolate a person, but cubicles act in a very similar way. They separate people from each other, and raise the cost of dealing with problems dramatically. They also serve as a barrier to communication and teamwork.

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  • Black Belt

    There are a variety of ‘ranks’ in continuous improvement environments. The belt system originated with Six Sigma, but has spread to Lean. Typically, Green Belts are people who have been trained in a general manner to do basic projects. Black Belts have more expertise, and are capable of coaching and mentoring teams. Master Black Belts are the top experts who have the skills to ‘train the trainers’ and create more Black Belts.

    Many companies that issue certifications. Some certify internal employees only in support of their own business. Other certifications come from third parties that specialize in training.

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  • Blitz, Kaizen

    A blitz is an intensive project, typically a week long, with focused gains in mind. The term kaizen or kaizen event are sometimes used interchangeably with blitz. Kaizen, in a broader sense though, is any effort to make something better. It makes for a bit of confusion about whether you are talking about a structured event or just a general improvement effort.

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  • Boredom

    Boredom, not surprisingly, is simply tedium or a lack of excitement in your job. Boredom (or lack thereof) plays a big role in job satisfaction. Nobody wants to go to work and face eight or ten dull, monotonous hours of every day.

    A lot of people fail to recognize is that there is significant waste associated with boredom at work. Bored employees may get the job done, but they are not as effective and productive as they could be.

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  • Bottlenecks / Capacity Constraints (+MP3)

    The term ‘bottleneck’ (capacity constraint) comes from the area at the top of the bottle that limits the flow coming out. It doesn’t matter how big the rest of the bottle is—liquid will only flow out as fast as the size of the neck will allow.

    That is stating the obvious, but the concept holds true in any production environment, whether in the office, or on the manufacturing floor. There is one process, station, step, etc. that is the limiting factor that will prevent greater throughput. This is the rate limiting step that determines your capacity.

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  • Bowling Chart

    “Bowling chart” is the nickname given to the tracking sheets used to monitor either KPIs or policy deployment objectives. Its name comes from the similarity to a bowling scorecard. You may also hear the term “bowler” used to describe these forms.

    The form compares the targets (plan) to actual performance on a monthly basis.

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  • Brainstorming Techniques

    Brainstorming techniques have varying degrees of structure, but they are all used to generate ideas.

    Brainstorming techniques include:

    • A brainstorming session in which everyone in the room blurts out ideas.
    • A brainstorming session that takes a round-robin approach, with each person presenting an idea in turn.
    • A brainstorming session in which each person writes out a specified number of ideas.
    • A session in which each person brainstorms a specified number of drawings of an idea.
    • A brainstorming approach in which ideas are passed around the room with each person building on previous ideas.
    • Brainstorming in the context of another tool, such as filling out a cause and effect (Ishikawa) fishbone diagram or an affinity diagram.
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  • Brand

    This may seem obvious, but a brand is the identifier that lets customers know which product they are buying. It distinguishes between the products of different companies. In many cases, brands are trademarked. To prevent confusion with consumers, other companies are not allowed to use the same, or even confusingly similar brands. Makes sense, since companies spend a huge amount of money developing their brand, and don’t want the competition to reap the rewards.

    Brands are supported by many forms of marketing. Many people can recall the ‘Tastes great-Less filling’ ad campaign. The logos of many companies are immediately recognizable, such as the red background and white script of Coca-Cola® or the Pepsi® ball. Jingles also support brands. Oreo® and Oscar Mayer® both used lyrics that were sung by millions.

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  • Break-Even Point

    The break-even point is, not surprisingly, the point (number of units sold) where the company can “break-even” and start earning profit.

    Break-Even Chart

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  • Breakthrough Objectives

    Breakthrough objectives are targets that can only be achieved with significant changes to the way the company operates. A company cannot achieve them by doing business as usual. Breakthrough objectives often cascade down from an aggressive strategic plan.

    Sometimes a breakthrough objective is established based on an opportunity. For example, a new vice-president with previous Lean experience may be set an aggressive goal to dramatically reduce finished goods inventory and do more make-to-order production.

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  • Briefback

    The process of giving instructions often leaves a significant amount of room for misinterpretation. People are often distracted during the briefing, or skim the email containing instructions. Or, the recipient may just make some different assumptions than the person delivering the instructions. Regardless, as in the childhood game of ‘telephone’, the message’s intent can be distorted.

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  • Buffer (Production)

    A production buffer is a type of inventory allocated specifically as a hedge against variation. The root cause of the unpredictability may be due to the normal variation of a process, or any of a variety of types of special cause variation. The latter causes include things like supplier unreliability, machine breakdowns, and high defect rates.

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  • Buffer Time

    Buffer time, in project management, is the extra time added into a time estimate to keep a project on track.

    There are two general types of buffer time.

    • Project buffer time
    • Task buffer time

    Project buffer time is the time that is added to the end of the project (or at various critical points along the way) that is managed by the project manager.

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