What’s in a name?

In a recent session for Fisher’s Master of Business Operational Excellence class, we had the pleasure of hearing James Hereford, COO of the Palo Alto Medical foundation. While discussing lean deployment in the health-care sector, he touched on using Japanese terms for the tools and methodologies of the Toyota Production System. It’s Hereford’s preference to use the original terms. His succinct defense:

“When you go to a Japanese restaurant, do you order sushi or do you say something like, ‘Please get me raw fish rolled in a leaf and rice?’”

Photo by Mrinalini Gadkari

What is in a name, really? If we’re doing what the words mean, does it matter if they’re Japanese or English? For many words in lean there isn’t even an exact translation. The closest translation of a simple word like gemba, for example, would be “actual place where the value is created” (Google it for many others).

So is it necessary to expend energy inventing words that convey the meaning instead of using the original words, especially if the tools and methods will be used regardless? Many people tell me, however, that in process improvement they get better buy-in when not using Japanese terms. Whatever works!

Have you had to deal with a divide in using Japanese terms with lean?