Japanese terms for the Agile developer

If you’re interested in knowing about how Toyota became the world’s most profitable car manufacturer then this book is for you!



For more than 50 years Toyota has applied and refined it’s lean manufacturing principals, also called TPS or the Toyota Production System. Without going into the details of this book (for now) here are some Japanese terms I thought would be very suitable for agile developers and the agile community at large.

Kanban – Card or ticket or sign board. Used to signal to the previous step when its part needs to be replenished. Kanban is a signaling system to trigger action. This creates a “pull” system

Heijunka – Level out the work load. A production scheduling and load leveling tool. Distribute kanban cards in an efficient manner.

Muda – Waste or non-value-add work. Eliminate waste or non-value-add is a top lean philosophy and is said to be the focus of most lean efforts.

Muri – Overburden or pushing beyond limits. Overburdening machines causes breakdowns and defects and pushing a person beyond their natural limits causes safety and quality problems.

Mura – Unevenness. Muda will be a result of Mura. Unevenness results from an irregular production schedule or fluctuating production volumes, indicating internal problems. In lean manufacturing you need to balance production volumes.

Jidoka– Built-in quality. Also referred to as “autonomation”, equipment endowed with human intelligence to stop itself when it has problems. Used as a quality control system to build a culture of stopping to fix problems and getting quality right the first time.

Andon  – Light signals or cords that could be pulled for help. Used to stop or warn the production line in a specific section or work center.

Kaizen – Continuous improvement. The process of making incremental improvements, no matter how small, to add value. Defines Toyota’s basic approach to doing business.

Genchi Gembutsu – Go to the source to thoroughly understand the situation.

Nemawashi – Literally translates to “going around the roots” or closely translated as “laying the groundwork”. Discussions between many people giving input and helps everyone to be in agreement when a decision or change is made.

Hansei – Reflection, become a learning organization through relentless reflection. Hansei go hand in hand with kaizen, without reflection you cannot have continuous improvement.

Hoshin Kanri – Policy deployment. Directing and motivating organizational process by cascading objectives from the top of the company down to the work group level.

Sensei – One who provides mentoring, teacher who has mastered the subject.


There’re probably some more Japanese terms in this book that I missed but these ones stood out to me the most. I see many resemblances to Agile Software Development thinking, processes, methodologies, etc. in the terms above. Can you do the agile translation of the of these Japanese words/phrases?