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Lean Reference Guide > Lean Dictionary

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"S" Terms
from The Continuous Improvement Companion

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  • Safety

    Safety is freedom from injury and harm.

    The most obvious freedom is from immediate bodily injury. Safety switches, gate, guards, etc. help provide this, as does proper training and well-designed processes.

    Safety also includes freedom from chronic conditions that accumulate over time. This includes things like repetitive stress injuries, and long-term exposure to toxins.

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  • Savings

    Continuous improvement focuses on cost reduction—the actual dollar savings that increase profit.

    The term ‘savings, though, has many nuances to it.

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  • Scalability

    Scalability is the ability to easily ramp up or down to changing requirements. The term is in common use in information technology, specifically in reference to the ability of a system to grow to accommodate increasing traffic.

    In a continuous improvement sense, it is the ability of a process to adjust to a growing demand.

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  • Schedules

    Schedules are an important part of a continuous improvement culture. Daily schedules are used for communication and coordination as well as to highlight problems and improvement activity.

    For example, many teams start the day with scheduled time to get the work area checked out and ready to go. They also likely schedule a standup meeting at the start of the day to resolve any issues that are uncovered and to communicate daily goals. Time to organize and clean the work area (5S) is often allocated at the end of the work day.

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  • Scientific Method

    The scientific method is one of many problem solving techniques.

    There are 5 basic steps to the scientific method.

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  • Scope

    The scope is the boundary of something in business. It may apply to an agreement, contract, set of responsibility, or project. The scope defines what is covered and what is not.

    In Lean, the scope is most commonly used to refer to the boundary of what a project will cover.

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  • Seasonality

    Seasonality is the regular pattern of peaks and valleys related to the time of year.

    Seasonality may be due to weather. Umbrellas, for example, sell best in rainy seasons; skis sell best in the winter. Seasonality may also be due to recurring annual events and holidays. Christmas means toy sales spike; August means back-to-school sales.

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  • Sensei

    In Lean, the term sensei means ‘expert’ or ‘master’ and highlights the Japanese origin of modern lean practices. Its use shows great respect to the recipient. It is normally bestowed upon lean practitioners who have shown extraordinary skill in lean implementation, and are exceptional at passing that knowledge on to others.

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  • Sensors

    Sensors are mechanical devices that are sensitive to their environment, and that communicate information about what they detect.

    Sensors can detect pressure, temperature, speed, and a host of other things. Sensors are commonly linked to either an alarm of some sort (a buzzer when a seat belt is not fastened), or a poka yoke device (key won’t turn if the sensor notices that the car is not in park).

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  • Separate Man from Machine

    People should not be standing watching machines or pulling levers. They are far more intelligent than that. Give them jobs that use that intelligence, and sever their ties to machines. Focusing on this premise, that workers are more than just machines, shows great respect for people, one of the central tenets of continuous improvement.

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  • Setup Reduction

    Setup reduction is the act of lowering the time it takes to switch from one product to another.

    In a traditional manufacturer, the switching time (changeover) is long. As a result, if they do more than an occasional switch, they run out of production time. So, they produce long runs of parts, adding to inventory and all the problems that brings: more space for storage, more quality problems, more money tied up in inventory, more inventory management, longer lead times, etc.

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  • Setup Time

    Setup time is the time it takes to reconfigure a machine to run a different part. Setup consists of two basic categories.

    1. Internal setup time. This type of setup time requires that a machine be shut down to do the tasks required to get ready for a different product. This is extremely wasteful as production comes to a grinding halt…
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  • Seven Wastes

    See also Waste.

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  • Sheet, Standard Work Combination

    See Standard Work Combination Sheet. 

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  • Shojinka

    Shojinka is a form of flexible manufacturing, where the number of workers vary to match demand requirements. This is obviously superior to a static system that staffs work areas without consideration to fluctuations in production requirements. Being able to reassign people to exactly where they are needed will help keep production areas of falling behind. This form of flexible staffing also releases people to work on improvement projects when demand is low across the board.

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  • Shop Floor

    ‘Shop floor’ is a generic term used to describe the work areas where production is done. The terminology is important because there has been a migration of Lean from the shop floor to office, healthcare, and other service environments. Because there are differences in the way some tools are applied in different types of work areas, it makes sense to have a way to clarify what you are talking about.

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  • Side Effects of Lean

    While Lean and other continuous improvement efforts can make impressive changes in an organization, there are often some unintended side effects.

    These Lean side effects include:

    • Possible accounting issues. The dramatic changes in inventory and the way costs are applied can be disruptive to financial documents. In some cases it can even appear that something negative is happening.
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  • Simplicity

    Simplicity is, simply put, the lack of complexity.

    In the modern world, complexity is looked upon as a sign of advancement and prowess. Simplicity is viewed as the earmark of an amateur.

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  • Single Minute Exchange of Die

    One of the core principles of Lean is to create flow. It is impossible to achieve with long setup times.

    When it takes an extensive amount of time to switch from one product to another, operators must run large lots to produce enough parts to keep production flowing.

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  • SIPOC Analysis Sheet

    SIPOC Analysis Sheet

    The SIPOC Analysis Sheet is a tool to help understand the flow of value from supplier to the customer. SIPOC is the acronym for Supplier-Inputs-Process-Outputs-Customer.

    Format: XLSX

    Regular Price: Free for Registered Users

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  • Six Sigma

    Six Sigma® is one of two most common continuous improvement methods. Lean is the other one.

    The term Six Sigma comes from the Greek letter ‘σ’ that is used as the symbol for standard deviation. Six Sigma refers to how many standard deviations fall within the output of a process.

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  • Skew

    Skew, in layman’s terms, means that data is distorted. The data points don’t fall evenly around the center of a distribution.

    Consider this example. Assume ten people are in a room, and you want to know what their average net worth is. If this was a typical cross section of America, the number would be $53,100

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  • Skills

    The simple definition of a skill is the ability to do something well or having a particular expertise in an activity.

    In typical organizations, the set of skills required by individuals tends to be fairly narrow for frontline employees and leaders. For the most part, they are asked to do their job and not much else.

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  • SMART Goals

    “SMART” is a commonly used mnemonic device that helps you set effective goals.

    SMART stands for…

    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Attainable
    • Relevant
    • Timely
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  • SMED

    SMED means ‘single minute exchange of dies’. It is one of the great enablers of Lean manufacturing for the simple reason that it reduces batch sizes.

    Simply put, when changeover takes a long time, a machine that makes many parts needs to run big batches all at once to be able to provide enough product to the downstream processes. This drives up inventory and reduces flexibility of the production system.

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  • Soft Savings

    Soft savings are the intangible benefits of continuous improvement. Contrast this with hard savings which are those that can be pointed to as a line item on some sort of financial record such as a receipt or an invoice.

    Soft savings tend to fall into two basic categories…

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  • Solutions

    Solutions in a Lean environment tend to be temporary. The rationale behind the statement lies in the term continuous improvement. Any new process you develop, by definition, will eventually change. “Solution” implies that a problem is solved once and for all. The two terms don’t play nice together.

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  • SOP / Standard Operating Procedure

    SOPs are set instructions that describe how to behave in a particular situation. SOP stands for standard operating procedure, or, alternatively, standing operating procedure though the latter term is falling out of use. Both are generally used interchangeably.

    An SOP is generally written. Informal SOPs exist, but are more often than not ineffective. Standard operating procedures are commonly used to define business processes, but can be used for virtually anything requiring instructions.

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  • Spaghetti Charts

    A spaghetti chart is a visual depiction of the flow of a person through their workstation. The spaghetti chart may also be used to depict the flow of information and materials as well.

    Typically, the chart is done on a Standard Work Sheet, mostly out of convenience. The sheet may already be available with the work area’s layout drawn in, and it has a grid on it to make drawing the spaghetti chart easier.

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  • Speaking in Negatives

    When someone is happy, they say ‘I am happy.” They do not say, “I am not sad.” When people speak in negatives, they are typically meaning, at least subconsciously, whatever they are saying with the ‘not’ removed. In the case above, if a person says “I am not sad”, it really translates to “I am sad.”

    People use this speech mechanism frequently. Listen for it, and you will hear countless cases of it. Normally, the speech pattern is used when there is a need to prevent true feelings from coming out, such as when there is a big change at work that a person is uncomfortable with. When feelings are clear, there is no wordsmithing. I have never once seen a truly excited person respond by speaking in negatives. No lottery winner ever exclaims, “I’m not disappointed.” People don’t get off roller coasters and describe it as “not slow and boring.”

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  • Special Cause Variation

    Special cause variation is one of the two main categories of variation. Common cause, the other type, is the consistent, recurring fluctuation within a system.

    Special cause variation, in layman’s terms, are the spikes that are cause by problems outside of those that regularly affect a process.

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  • Specifications

    Specifications are the stated design parameters of a product or service. Specifications can cover any of a variety of features, from physical dimensions, to operating range, to battery life.

    Some specifications are given with a margin of error, such as ‘12.00 +/- 0.10 inches’. Other specs are given with a maximum or minimum, such as <250 ppm of a contaminant.

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  • Stability

    The term stability is the tendency of something to keep its current state. The opposite of stability is Lean operations is variation, or the state of things fluctuating wildly, or drifting away from normal.

    Stable processes tend to not only produce high quality outputs, but also do it in a predictable time with a minimal amount of waste.

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  • Staffing

    Staffing in a Lean organization is a bit different than it would be in most other companies. First of all, in general, a Lean organization will need fewer people to do the same amount of work that is done in a non-Lean company. But there is more to it than just that. You cannot just harvest all of the gains that you make with your improvements. There are some additional requirements that come from focusing on improvement.

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  • Stakeholders

    Stakeholders are the people that are vested in the outcome of something. They are not necessarily people who actually do the process, but they do have some skin in the game.

    Stakeholders that are indirectly affected by a process frequently have a negative effect from the change. In many cases, they will be asked to bear some of the costs of a new method despite getting none, or very little, of the benefit.

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  • Stand-Up Meeting

    Stand up meetings are the quick team gatherings to make sure that the day is properly planned out. Topics generally include the current day’s goals and issues, previous day’s results, ongoing project status, and anything special on the agenda.

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  • Standard Work (+14-Pg Lean PDF +MP3 +Forms +Video)

    Standard Work Lean Term on PDF

    Standard Work is at the core of most Lean operations. It adds consistency and efficiency to a process. Watch a short video, and download a FREE 14-Page PDF on Standard Work.

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  • Standard Work Combination Sheet / SWCS (+Form +Video)

    Standard Work Combination Sheet

    The Standard Work Combination Sheet provides a visual representation of the flow of work and the interactions between person and machine.

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  • Standard Work Combination Table

    See also Standard Work Combination Sheet.

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  • Standard Work Sheet (+Form +Video)

    Standard Work Sheet

    The Standard Work Sheet shows an overhead view of the layout of a work area and shows the flow operators and materials within it.

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  • Standard Work-in-Process (+ 7-Page Lean PDF, + Video)

    Standard WIP Lean Term on PDF

    Standard Work-in-Process controls the amount of inventory in a system and allows Standard Work to flow smoothly. Visit this Lean term page to learn more and download a FREE 7-Page PDF about Standard Work-in-Process.

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  • Standardization (+ 9-Page PDF)

    Standardization Lean Term on PDF

    Standardization is at the heart of nearly all the Lean tools. Learn more and download a FREE 9-Page PDF on Standardization.

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  • Standardized Work Sheets

    Standardized Work Sheets are another name for Standard Work Sheets, the more common of the names, as well as the entry under which we post our free form. They are one of the basic forms used for documenting Standard Work in Lean.

    Standardized Work Sheets show header information, defining the process, and they show the layout of the area on graph paper.

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  • Standards (+ 6-Page Lean PDF)

    Standards Lean Term on PDF

    Standard define the expectation. Strong Lean leaders set clear standards and track deviation from them so they can fix the underlying processes. Visit this Lean term page to learn more and download a FREE 6-Page PDF about standards in Lean operations.

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  • Status Quo

    The status quo is defined as the current or existing state or condition. In plain English, it is how things are today.

    There is an old adage that the definition of insanity is doing things the same way and expecting different results. Getting better requires that something is done differently. If a process never changes, the output of that process will not change either.

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  • Stopgaps (+ 5-Page Lean PDF)

    Stopgaps Lean Term on PDF

    A stopgap is a short-term fix to prevent a known problem temporarily until a better, permanent solution can be devised. Visit this Lean term page to learn more and download a FREE 5-Page PDF about using stopgaps in Lean operations.

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  • Stopwatch

    Everyone, of course, knows what a stopwatch is.

    They may not, though, understand why someone is standing over them with one. In a Lean company, processes are based on facts and data. One of those facts is the time it takes to accomplish a task.

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  • Sunk Costs

    A sunk cost is an expense that has already been incurred and has no bearing on future decisions.

    Imagine that you are working on restoring an old car and have budgeted $2000 to complete the project. After all the repairs are made and you turn the key, you hear nothing. You learn that it will cost another $1000 to get it operational. Conventional wisdom says that the decision to proceed or not is based on the total amount spent, or the $3000. Even the old adage “Don’t throw good money after bad” reinforces this train of thought.

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  • Supervision

    Supervision is the act of providing oversight to people or processes. The amount of direct supervision required is generally inversely proportionate to the structure of the operation. With that means is simply this: if you have strong processes, people have less of a need for supervisors telling them what to do next.

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  • Surveys

    There are many ways to learn about your customers, vendors, or employees. You can watch how they behave. You can do research or purchase data about them. You can analyze the data you already have. Each of these, though, is somewhat passive, and thus limits the information you can gather. You are only able to watch the behaviors that individuals choose to show.

    The alternative is to go out and ask specific questions. This may be in the form of a forum or a focus group, but the most common way to pull information from people is with a survey.

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  • SWAG

    SWAG is an acronym, likely originating in the US Army, for scientific wild ass guess. It is used to describe a hypothesis or decision that is based on a small amount of factual evidence, but nowhere near enough to have certainty.

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  • SWOT Analysis

    SWOT analysis stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It is a structured approach for assessing at a project, new business venture, ongoing concern, or similar situation.

    By itself, SWOT analysis has limited utility. It has much more value when used with a purpose, such as a product launch, an annual strategy session, of when deciding whether to venture into a new industry

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  • Symptoms

    In the medical world, a symptom is just the visible evidence of a disease or injury. For example, swollen painful joints may be a symptom of arthritis, or nausea might be a symptom of food poisoning.

    In continuous improvement, symptoms are similar. They are the ‘tells’ that let you know that there is something that is just not right with a process or product. They are often the only way to identify an underlying problem-the root cause of an issue. A specific type of symptom is the abnormal condition-an indicator that something is disrupting the smooth operation of a process.

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