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Lean Reference Guide > Lean Dictionary

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"C" Terms
from The Continuous Improvement Companion

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  • C-Level Executive

    C-Level executives are the top individuals in an organization’s hierarchical structure. They most common are the CEO (Chief Executive Officer), CFO (Chief Financial Officer), and COO (Chief Operating Officer). There are also frequently c-level executives in charge of marketing or information technology.

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  • Calibration

    Calibration is the process of comparing the measuring capabilities of a piece of equipment to a known standard. In the common vernacular, calibration is thought to include adjustment as well. In reality, calibration and adjustment are two separate processes.

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  • Call Center

    Call centers are simply clusters of people answering phones for a particular purpose. It might be to provide information, as in a hotline for a recall. It could be for placing orders, for technical support, or for customer service. Call centers can be inbound, where customers are calling in, or outbound, where the organization is calling the customer, such as for sales, or to promote political candidates. 

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  • Can’t

    The word “Can’t” is not compatible with continuous improvement. It is surprising how many things that “can’t” be done get accomplished by people and teams when they actually try. “Can’t” becomes an excuse for not attempting. It also is frequently treated as gospel when people say something “can’t be done.” There is an old expression…

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  • Capability

    Capability simply means that a person or machine has the ability to perform a required task. It is a binary measure. That simply means that it is physically possible in the current state to do something.

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  • Capacity

    Capacity is the amount a given group, team, or individual can produce. It is determined by factors such as productivity, staffing, hours of operations, equipment limitations, defects/scrap, setup time requirements, number of shifts, equipment maintenance requirements, and a host of other factors.

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  • Capital Expenses

    Capital expenses are the cost for fixed assets—the things that are typically carried on the books (reported on financial statements), last longer than a year, and provide recurring value.

    Buildings, vehicles, and equipment are typically capital expenses.

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  • Card, Kanban

    See also Kanban card.

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  • Catalog Engineer

    “Catalog engineer” is a derisive term used to describe someone with a lack of creativity when it comes to process improvement. The term describes those who immediately attempt to purchase an existing solution to a problem rather than try to figure out a method in-house.

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  • Catchball

    Catchball is a business process of floating ideas and comments around in an iterative manner. The name ‘catchball’ comes from the metaphor of tossing an idea back and forth, much like you might with a football.

    In Lean, the catchball process…

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  • Cause and Effect / Fishbone Diagram (+ 11-Page Lean PDF, + Video, + Form)

    Cause and Effect (Fishbone) Diagram Lean Term on PDF

    Effective problem solving requires an arsenal of tools. The cause and effect diagram is an effective way to sort through the chaos and see what is really causing your problems. Visit this Lean term page to learn more and download a FREE 11-Page PDF about fishbone diagrams.

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    CEDAC is an acronym that stands for cause and effect diagram with the addition of cards. It is a very specific way of building a fishbone diagram in which team members contribute ideas written on 3 x 5 cards or Post-it notes.

    CEDAC is a problem-solving tool (video available) that relies on brainstorming. The goal of CEDAC is…

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  • Cell, U-Shaped

    See also U-Shaped Cells.

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  • Cell, Work

     See also work cell.

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  • Cellular Manufacturing System

    In general, batch manufacturing (the opposite of a cellular manufacturing system) is oriented around a process. You might have a cutting group, a welding group, a grinding group, etc. Each workgroup is structured based on what they do. These clusters of machines produce long runs of a product according to a work schedule and deliver piles of work-in-process to the next operation in the value stream. Note: To clear up a confusing point, these process based groups are often referred to as ‘cells’. This process based ‘cell’ does not make the company a cellular manufacturing.

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  • Central Limit Theorem

    The central limit theorem, in layman’s terms, says that regardless of the shape of the underlying distribution, in most cases, the mean of samples taken from the distribution will approximate a normal distribution.

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  • Chaku-Chaku

    A chaku-chaku line has a series of machines, each equipped with a hanedashi device, or autoejector. This enables the operator working a chaku-chaku line to

    • walk up and immediately insert the part he is holding into a machine
    • press a start button, and then
    • pick up the previously ejected part.

    Because the chaku-chaku operator is running several machines, she relies on jidoka (autonomation). If there is a problem on a machine while the operator is away, jidoka stops production, preventing further defects or damage to the machine.

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  • Champion

    A Lean champion tends to be project oriented. They are senior executives with clout in the company. They provide backing to the project team and help remove obstacles, provide resources, move things along more quickly, and resolve disputes.

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  • Change Agent

    A change agent is simply an advocate for change, who follows up on those convictions. He or she not only expresses a desire for change, but also attempts to rally those around them to join the cause. While change agents can be of any rank, they must have influence to make an impact on those around them.

    Change agents work best from within the company. Frequently, companies will hire a speaker, or a consultant to help drive change. While this supports the process, it is no substitute for having a management team that is committed to a vision and is helping steer the company towards improvement.

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  • Change Management (+ 9-Page Lean PDF)

    Change Management Lean Term on PDF

    Making improvements, by definition, requires change. Since most people find change very challenging, change management is an essential skill for leaders to have in any Lean organization.

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  • Change Resistance

    The term ‘resistance to change’ is commonly used in discussions about Lean. It simply means that people are set in their ways, and often don’t want to modify their routines.

    Surprisingly, this change resistance doesn’t just occur when people who like their jobs are asked to make a change. Resistance even comes from people who are chronically upset with their working conditions. For them, the known evil is preferable to the unknown.

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  • Changeover

    Changeover is the time it takes to go from the last good part of one product run to the first good part of the next product run. Quick changeover is critical to Lean. It provides the flexibility to match the product mix to actual demand.

    In turn, this prevents the accumulation of inventory that can add cost and substantial waste to a value stream.

    Watch out for a terminology issue with changeover. Setup and changeover are sometimes used interchangeably; in other cases, setup is viewed as a component of changeover. In that usage, it refers to the part of changeover that is focused on configuring a machine for a different product type.

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  • Chart, Process Flow
    See also Process Flow Chart.
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  • Chart, Run
    See also Run Chart.
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  • Check Sheet

    Check Sheets are means of tallying data. They generally are kept at the point of data collection, and every time a particular incident happens, a check is placed in the appropriate box.

    In many cases, the check sheet will be broken down into a grid. The columns most often contain the different types of occurrences. The rows are broken down into time periods, whether hours, days, or a longer period.

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  • Checklists (+ 9-Page Lean PDF)

    Checklists Lean Term on PDF

    Checklists are a quick, effective way to improve a process. There are pitfalls to using checklists, though. Visit this Lean term page to learn more and download a FREE 9-Page PDF about using checklists effectively.

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  • Checkpoints

    Checkpoints, in the military, are used to track progress of a unit’s movement.

    In Lean, checkpoints can be used in a similar fashion. Checkpoints can be linked to specific process steps. When the sequence of work is standardized, the operator should hit those checkpoints with the same time remaining in the takt time each and every cycle.

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  • CLOSED MITT (+ 5-Page Lean PDF)

    CLOSED MITT Lean Term on PDF

    CLOSED MITT is an acronym that is useful for helping to identify and categorize waste, and ultimately eliminate it.

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  • Coaching (+ 3-Page PDF)

    Coaching Lean Term on PDF

    Coaching is an integral part of leadership, and as such it is essential in a Lean environment. Visit this Lean term page to download a FREE 3-Page PDF about coaching.

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  • Common Cause Variation

    Common cause variation is the predictable, repetitive, systemic portion of variation. Contrast this with special cause variation, caused by unusual occurrences.

    Common cause variation, in a nutshell, is the consistent randomness built into a process. It is also frequently referred to as ‘noise.’

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  • Communication (+ 6-Page PDF)

    Communication Lean Term on PDF

    Communication is the act of passing information back and forth. It is important not only to Lean operations, but also plays a vital role in creating employee satisfaction. Visit this Lean term page to download a FREE 6-Page PDF about communication.

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  • Competition

    Competition is the act of trying to get your needs met over the needs of someone else.

    It could be competing in sports (your need to win over their need), in a job hunt (you against the thousand other applicants). Or it could be in a marketplace (trying to fight it out of for the same pile of money).

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  • Competitive Advantage

    A competitive advantage is a condition through which one organization has to spend fewer resources to get the same benefit as a competitor (or, of course, gets more benefit for spending the same amount of resources.)

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  • Complacency

    Complacency is the state of being content with achievements while simultaneously being unaware of the pending dangers.

    One of the greatest risks successful Lean companies face is complacency. They make massive gains, and become highly competitive in their markets. Then they become complacent and rest on their laurels while the competition makes progress.

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  • Complexity

    What’s the definition of complexity? It is anything that has a lot of intricacy to it. The word has a negative connotation to it in Lean. So what is complexity from a Lean perspective? It is adding more to a process than is needed. It is adding 3 steps when 2 will suffice. Keep the acronym KISS (‘Keep it simple, stupid’) in mind when developing Lean processes. It is a reminder to avoid complexity.

    In general, the more complex a solution or process is, the less likely it is to be followed, and the more likely it is to break, leading to poor quality.

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  • Compromise

    A compromise involves mutual concessions by both sides during a disagreement. A compromise is characterized by each party getting less than they originally wanted in order to reach an agreement.

    Compare compromise to collaboration and cooperation where two parties work together to achieve common (or overlapping) goals. In those types of arrangements, unlike in a compromise, both parties can come out ahead of where they originally were.

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  • Computers

    Not that many years ago, people could choose not to use computers. In fact, many people did not have access to a computer at home or at work.

    According to a Research and Markets report, as of January of 2009, 80% of US households have a computer. Many of the last 20% likely have access to a computer some other way—through work or via a friend or relative.

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  • Concrete Head

    A concrete head is someone who is resistant to the changes that Lean brings. Obviously this is a derogatory term. The term “concrete head’ is the result of a translation from Japanese.

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  • Conflicts

    Conflict is the state of disagreement or opposition.

    Conflict is a normal part of any Lean effort. When a process is changed, people invariably have differing opinions about the best way to fix things. In some cases, there is even conflict about whether something is even a problem.

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  • Confusion

    Confusion is a lack of certainty. This uncertainty translates to waste.

    This waste is cause by two main things:

    1. Delays: Confusion creates delays in processes when operators try to figure out what to do, which leads to variation in cycle time. With enough of these delays, lead times also become harder to predict.
    2. Poor Quality: Confusion creates quality problems. When instructions are unclear, people sometimes get the process wrong.
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  • Consistency

    The definition of consistency (for Lean) is the ability to repeat a process over and over, and get the same results every time. Although it is not exclusively a Lean term, consistency is a critical component of Lean Standardized Work (frequently called Standard Work).

    Why is it important to continuous improvement? Consistency in processes is the reason that continuous improvement works at all. That stability provides a foundation upon which to make improvements.

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  • Constraints

    Eliyahu Goldratt put together his Theory of Constraints, and presented its principles in his book ‘The Goal’. He explains that systems generally have a single (sometimes more) bottlenecks that limit, or constrain, production.

    In a more general sense, a constraint is anything that prevents you from accomplishing something that you want to do? Constraints come in a variety of forms. Laws (like speed limits), regulations (like those that OSHA administers), and customer preferences are all constraints.

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  • Containment

    Containment is an interim quality management step. When a problem is identified, the organization must take steps to prevent defects from escaping. Containment is a method of systematically identifying and quarantining all materials that are suspect until they can be confirmed not to contain defects.

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  • Continuous Data

    Continuous data can have any value within a given range. Compare this to discrete data which is limited in the values it takes.

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  • Continuous Flow

    Continuous flow is the act of moving a product through the production process from start to finish without stopping. In pure continuous flow, the cycle time equals the lead time, as the product never sits in a queue waiting to be worked on.

    Contrast this to batch and queue production in which larger groups of parts move as a unit and then wait for an operator to have time to work on them.

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  • Continuous Improvement

    Continuous improvement is the art of relentlessly attempting to make processes better. It is an all-the-time thing. It includes both the reduction of costs (primarily through waste reduction), or the increase of sales by offering better products and services. Regardless, it is the mindset that job satisfaction should come from improving one’s environment.

    Continuous improvement has this basic tenet: you are never done making things better. As soon as something is implemented, there is already an opportunity to improve it. There is no such thing as perfect, and there is no best way to do something. There is always, always, always a better way.

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  • Continuous Improvement Culture

    A ‘continuous improvement culture’ is a shared value system that promotes the belief that what is good enough today is not good enough for tomorrow.

    Cultures do not change overnight. It takes time, patience, strong communication skills, and most importantly, trust between managers and their teams.

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  • Contract (of Change)

    Frequently, people will have their teams sign a ‘change contract’ that clarifies what their role is in whatever project or initiative they are taking part in. For some reason, when people sign their names to something, they are more likely to follow through on it. These contracts generally include actual behaviors, as well as attitudes.

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  • Control (DMAIC Step)

    The control step of the DMAIC process is where changes are locked in place. The control step requires a system to measure the performance of the new process to ensure it is performing as expected.

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  • Control (Scientific)

    A control, or control group is a tool used to confirm whether changes are actually having an effect. The control group is exposed to the same conditions as the test group with the exception of the variable that is being examined.

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  • Control Limits

    Control limits are lines established 3 standard deviations from the mean on a control chart. Keep in mind that the control chart depicts averages, so exhibits a normal distribution. (See Central Limit Theorem) 99.7% of all random variation (common cause) will fall within the upper and lower control limits. Outliers can generally be assumed to be outliers, indicating that the process is out of control.

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  • Control, Statistical

    When a process is said to be ‘in control’, statistically speaking, that means that all the variation can be attributed to common causes. All of the observed variation is just a function of the natural randomness built into a system or process.

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  • Control, Visual

     See also Visual Control.

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  • Conveyors

    Conveyors are automatic systems for moving products and materials between two points. Roller tables perform the same function, but without the automation. Some are built on the ground; others are elevated to bench level. Some even hang parts overhead.

    While conveyors certainly have an application in many situations, Lean tends to look to other solutions first. Lean’s use of work cells and flexible stations, as well as the constant rearranging of processes can make conveyors impractical.

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  • Cooperation

    Cooperation is the act of tailoring your activities to work with someone else’s in order to achieve a specific result.

    Cooperative relationships are generally informal. They tend to be successful because there is overlap in what both parties want to achieve-the intersection of both of their goals. While all parties have their own agendas, there is enough commonality to make the relationship beneficial for everyone.

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  • Corrective Action Report (CAR)

    A Corrective Action Report (CAR) is a tool used to support a quality program. It is a written record of the investigation into the root cause of a problem and the actions that are required to permanently eliminate the underlying issue.

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  • Correlation

    Correlation is a statistical term that describes the relationship between two different, measurable factors. The relationship may be positive (same direction—one goes up, the other goes up, like temperature and the number of people on the beach), or negative (like temperature and the number of people wearing coats).

    The relationship will have a mathematical formula associated with it, but it may not be a linear link. Changing one variable may do wacky things to the other. Some of the relationships can be rather complicated.

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  • Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ)

    The cost of poor quality (COPQ) is the aggregate impact of an organization’s errors and defects on the company.

    It includes costs associated with scrap, rework, inspection, data management, data collection, redesign, warranty claims, lawsuits, lost sales, loss of reputation, additional inventory, and any other expense that is incurred to make sure customers are not stuck with products that don’t work.

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  • Costs

    Costs are simply our outlays or expenses for which we get something in return. It is most often money, but it can be anything—time, money, or even something that you trade in barter.

    That expectation of getting something in return, given the assumption of a rational market, always implies a win-win situation. In a voluntary transaction (I’m leaving things like taxes and fines out of this), both sides think that they are getting more value than they are giving, or else the exchange doesn’t make sense to do.

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  • Counterclockwise Flow

    Many Lean experts advocate setting up work areas so there is counterclockwise flow. This principle goes hand-in hand with the U-shaped cell. Using a counterclockwise flow comes from the fact that most people are right-handed. As they move through the cell, their dominant hand is closer to the work sooner.

    While it seems on the surface that this might not save much time, the seconds add up quickly in a fast-paced work area. It also appeals to people ergonomically, as there is less twisting and turning at each station.

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  • Countermeasure Sheet

    We offer a free countermeasures form for our registered users. Use it as part of your monthly operations review package.

    Format: XLSX

    Regular Price: Free for Registered Users

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  • Countermeasures

    Countermeasures are the actions taken to reduce or eliminate the root causes of problems that are preventing you from reaching your goals. In many cases, this is a formal process for a company. A company does its strategic planning, which cascades down through the levels of an organization, creating targets, or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). When the organization is missing on one of its KPIs, its leaders should perform countermeasures to make sure they have a plan to get back on track.

    Countermeasures are also done when a problem ‘pops up’. But I encourage you to look at what metric that problem links to. You’d be surprised how often these sorts of issues can be tied to company targets.

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  • Creativity

    Creativity is the ability to break the mold of traditional thinking.

    Most people think of creativity as the ability to come up with new ideas. But creativity is also exhibited when people use existing information in new ways.

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  • Credibility of Lean

    Credibility is trustworthiness. Credibility comes from a track record of getting things right.

    Lean, despite its global success, has to earn its credibility within a company. It is not enough for a leader to talk about the virtues of Lean, or to point to external examples. Employees have to see a record of success on their home turf for them to start seeing Lean as a viable solution.

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  • Critical Few

    The critical few are the minority of causes that contribute to the majority of the effects. The critical few is the ‘20’ part of the Pareto Principle, otherwise known as the 80-20 rule.

    Addressing the critical few has the potential to provide the biggest bang for the buck. In most cases, you can conserve your continuous improvement resources by concentrating them on the critical few.

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  • Criticism

    Criticism is negative feedback about something. At work, criticism can be about personal performance or a process.

    In a Lean culture, discussing problems is an essential part of making improvements. The key to success at addressing these issues is to make every attempt to separate the failure of a person from the failure of a process.

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  • CRM / Customer Relationship Management

    CRM stands for customer relationship management. It essentially is the practice of taking an active approach to understanding how a company interacts with its customers and creating a strategy to manage that relationship for both current and future customers.

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  • Cross-Functional Team

    Complex problem solving often require complex thinking to get to simple, effective, easy to implement solutions. When a team is very homogenous, they tend to think very rigidly and one-dimensionally.

    Consider a football team. Coaches understand the need for a well-balanced set of skills. A team needs big guys for the offensive line. It needs a quick thinker who can throw well for its quarterback. It needs strong players for running backs and linebackers, and fast players as receivers. With only big guys, or just fast guys, a team would fail.

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  • Cross-training

    Cross-training employees is exactly what it sounds like—multiple people trained on each job, and each person trained on multiple jobs.

    Cross-training employees provides flexibility. It allows leaders to shift people around to cover for breaks, vacations, and illnesses. It also allows leaders to adjust staffing when there are shifts in demand.

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  • Culture, Continuous Improvement

    See also Continuous Improvement Culture.

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  • Curiosity

    Curiosity is the desire to learn more, or the state of dissatisfaction with a lack of knowledge. It is also a fundamental part of any problem solving mentality.

    Curiosity provides the drive to follow up on an issue once it is identified. It gives the spark that makes people continue to question what is going on even after the surface answer has been found. It also prevents accepting a “brush-off” answer to a question.

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  • Current State Map

    A current state map is a snapshot of how a process is currently done. It may be a current state process flowchart, or a current state value stream map (VSM), but the principle is the same. It shows the current methodology of how you produce products or perform services for your customers.

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  • Current State Value Stream Map

    The current state value stream map provides a 30,000 foot snapshot of how an organization operates. One of the unique aspects of this tool compared to others is that it shows the flow of both materials and information.

    This tool is extremely useful for a few reasons:

    • It provides eye-opening insight into the level of waste in an organization.
    • It provides a foundation upon which to build a plan to improve.
    • It acts as a communication tool to make sure that everyone in the organization is on the same sheet of music.
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  • Customer Behavior

    Customer behavior is the way the average customer, in a specific target group, will act in a given situation.

    Customer behavior depends on a host of factors—economic class, psychology, region, culture. Like-minded customers tend to behave in similar ways. That is why ads are targeted to specific groups.

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  • Customers

    Who is a customer in the modern world? He is demanding. He wants his product immediately. He wants value, but that doesn’t mean cheap. It just means that he wants to feel like he gets a little more for his money. And he wants products that work, and services that deliver on their promises.

    These demanding customers are the reason Lean exists at all. The demands they place on companies, and their willingness to vote with their wallets and feet makes continuous improvement a business imperative. If your company does not do it, your customers will quickly find one that does.

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  • Cycle

    A cycle is the time from the start of a process until the operator (or machine) is ready to start the next time through the process.

    An alternative definition of cycle says it is the time from the start of one part until the start of the next part.

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  • Cycle Time (+ 9-Page Lean PDF +Videos +MP3 +Form )

    Cycle Time Lean Term on PDF

    Understanding how long work takes is a critical aspect to making improvements. Cycle time play a big role in staffing decisions as well.. Visit this Lean term page to learn more and download a FREE 9-Page Cycle Time PDF.

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  • Cycle Time Reduction

    Cycle time reduction is the strategy of lowering the time it takes to perform a process in order to improve productivity.

    In addition, cycle time reduction often improves quality. When a cycle time is too close to the takt time, there is little margin for error. If a process is dialed in with very little variation, this is seldom a problem. But most processes have some inconsistency in them, resulting in people falling behind the normal pace on occasion. This leads to them rushing, which, in turn can lead to mistakes. Reducing cycle time is a low cost way to add a bit of a buffer to avoid those sorts of defects.

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