Death by Acronyms: A Lean Perspective

Originally published on LinkedIn on June 9, 2016 

If acronyms were invented to shorten concepts and words - perhaps to save time - or as a convenient way to communicate, please beware: in our global, multicultural context these grammatical devices are creating huge costs.

Communication for Coordination

In order to get things done in the workplace, a coordinated set of activities has to happen between the different areas of your company.

Poor communication might be a key contributor to ineffective results.

Example: “We will establish the next FGS to accomplish a CTRD of at least 30% on our HKX-32 program.”

Imagine this statement being made on a virtual phone call where participants are not all from your industry, not from your company, and not from your country.

Perhaps the speaker’s intent was to give an instruction, to kick off a coordinated effort to reach a specific goal?

Lean Thinking: Do acronyms support the clarity of your message? 

Not right the first time. 

Probably not all participants understood the exact meaning of the acronyms and not only is time being wasted attempting to convey the message- it’s triggering the wrong activities and causing unwanted costs. 

Remember, you're not just having a casual conversation, you are attempting to convey a message to generate action. 


In an optimal setting a message communicated for action is clearly understood by every stakeholder and every player. This is analogous in Lean to a situation where activities follow an uninterrupted path, with no obstacles and where value is being added in every step :

Five S

In the case of the virtual call, the acronyms intended to save time behave more like obstacles to flow. If they do not support the clarity of the message, use Seiri to sort them out.

Communication is a Process

We cannot remain blind to the way we communicate with others. Realize that if you choose to use fancy acronyms in certain contexts, your intended message may be lost to confusion and misunderstandings, and the results will be different than planned.

You will have been a key contributor to poor results.

Yes, THEY have to learn to listen. But YOU can start the communication  process by injecting clarity from the get go.

Sam Yankelevitch is a speaker, trainer, and author. He has adapted Lean thinking to solve problems rooted in miscommunication.

His most recent book is titled: Global Lean: Seeing the New Waste Rooted in Communication, Distance and Culture a story about the unforeseen obstacles a German company encounters when they decide to expand internationally, and how they brought the issues to the surface by using Lean thinking.