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Japanese Management Lingo

In last week’s Pocketblog, we looked at the 5S approach to ordering and organising a workspace, introducing five Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke.

It struck me that there are an awful lot of Japanese terms that have enriched our business language, so I thought I’d list a few more.  Of course, readers of the Pocketblog will also probably be familiar with gemba too.

I think that some of the concepts that they raise are absolutely fascinating – and necessary to us in the West.  Let’s look at a few more, some familiar, some little known.


Collaboration and information sharing.  Keeping others informed.


Radical change.  The opposite of…


Continuous flow of incremental improvements.


A progress tracking approach that follows instances through a process.  Literally ‘billboard’.  Increasingly used in project management and team workflow.  There is a lovely (free) web-based app called Trello that works on Mac, PC and mobile app formats.


Literally: ‘death from overwork’.  Don’t!


The spirit of co-operating for the common good.


Perception and foresight, coupled with good judgement.


The sense of regret when we become aware of waste and failure to use well any things of value.  (I am so glad I now have a word for this).  It comes from the concept, ‘mottai’ that things have inherent value, or dignity.  Nice.

Muda, Mura and Muri

… are the three forms of waste

  • Muda
    Wasted effort
  • Mura
  • Muri
    Unreasonable – even ridiculous – requirements


Literally, ‘going around the roots’.  Refers to the informal stakeholder alignment and political process that lay the groundwork for effective consensus or change.

Pecha Kucha

Currently popular style of presenting, with 20 slides, each lasting 20 seconds.  Gives a fast and dynamic way to present an idea.  Pecha Kucha nights often consist of a dozen or more presentations.  Literally, ‘chit-chat’.

Poka Yoke

Making error proof.  Creating something so that mistakes cannot be made.


Public truth.  The things that are appropriate to share in a public situation.  It literally means ‘facade’ and we might contrast it with ‘honne’, meaning your true feelings.  Puts me in mind of the Johari Window.

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The Efficiency of Order: The 5S Methodology

I think anyone who knows me will tell you I am a pretty orderly person.  My wife may even go further.  The first thing I did when I moved into my first house was make a shadow board for frequently used household tools, and then mounted it on the under-stair cupboard door.  It’s now on a cupboard door in the utility room of our home.

Shadow Board

Some time ago, I wrote, in another place, about the Japanese methodology of 5S.  I then pretty much forgot about it until, last week, it returned to my consciousness.  I was working with a team of people in a big high tech manufacturing business, and someone in the room used the term.  I realised it was time to refresh my memory… and yours too, while I am at it.

Another Improvement Technique

Just like Six Sigma (which we covered extensively in March), 5S is an improvement methodology but this one really is Japanese and it trades obscuring jargon and complexity for gratifying simplicity.

Three Six Sigma Articles

  1. Belt up and Reduce Errors
  2. The DMAIC Solution Process
  3. Six Tools from Six Sigma

It gets its name from the English transliterations of the Japanese names for the five stages: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke.

Through the marvels of the breadth of the English language, however, it is possible to translate all five (near enough) into English words that still begin with S.  I wonder how many languages are rich enough to allow that…

1: Seiri – or Sorting
My shadow board would be no good in optimising a manufacturing process.  It contains everything I might need for a wide range of scenarios.  Step 1 involves reducing that to only things I will need for the scenarios that my workspace is designed for.

2: Seiton – or Set in order
A place for everything and everything in its place.  My shadow board does at least allow easy access so I know exactly where to find any tool I need – and where to replace it when I am done.

3: Seiso – or Shine-up
Keep your work space tidy, neat, clean.  An old habit of the Royal Navy, I believe from reading the Patrick O’Brian novels, is a fastidious (nay obsessive) concern to scrub and polish.

4: Seiketsu – or Standardise
Same task: same tool set: same layout.  Everything uniform and repeated to create total inter-operability.

5: Shitsuke – or Sustain
Get it good then keep it good.  Don’t back slide but embed good practices into daily routine

Wikipedia has more

The great organ of knowledge even suggests (without giving us their Japanese language equivalents) that we add:

  • Safety
  • Security
  • Satisfaction

And why not?  I bet Pocketblog readers can even think of more options.

So, here’s the deal

It really doesn’t get any simpler than this.  And simplicity is good, so I commend the principles to you.

Hey, there you go… I just did it: Number 9: Simplicity.

Oh how I love the English language.  More please…

I’d welcome ideas in the comments space below.

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