Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Yokoten – Finding the holy grail of the Continuous Improvement process.

Yokoten , (loosely defined) is the reapplication of a solution to similar problems in different areas. This essentially boils down to a ‘teaching’ process, and how solutions are ‘taught’ across an organization so that team members can apply and improve upon the acquired knowledge. To me, the holy grail of the continuous improvement process is simply this – the ability to quickly apply learned solutions to other areas (vertically and horizontally in an organization).

But how do organizations ensure that learned solutions are effectively communicated? This is usually answered by the different teaching and communication avenues found in effective lean organizations -such as Toyota - that attempt to maximize the exposure of a solution to their team members. In a typical CI process, Kaizen are communicated via the Kaizen card. Normally placed at the location where change is occurring as well as common bulletin boards across the organization, this allows team members to see the before and after conditions and learn how a particular problem was resolved. The theory here is that team members can carry that knowledge to their work areas and implement similar or improved solutions.

As in most organizations, this process is paper-based, and although ideas receive great visibility (if the CI program is well designed), once they are removed from the bulletin boards, the learning stops, and unless there is a common repository accessible to all, the solutions are no longer available to those who were never made aware of it (and yes…, there are still those who just go to work and don’t read the bulletin boards!)

This fact leads to what I call the “Re-inventing the wheel” syndrome that is usually observed in lean organizations. Although everyone agrees that someone who is solving a problem (even though the solution exists) is actually learning, it is evident that this effort in “reinventing the wheel” can be viewed as non-value-added. The work is being re-done, and therefore time and ‘testing’ resources are being invested in the effort.

So the question this brings up is how to maximize the benefits of a solution across an entire organization? To me the answer is simple – adopt the use of tools and methods that not only enhance the communication of solutions across an organization, but also do so perpetually. In other words, make solutions readily available to team members looking to solve problems!

Eureka, our Idea Management Software addresses that question and is designed to help organizations maximize yokoten. Our system allows users to not only document their Kaizen, but more importantly allows them to search through ALL the kaizen that have been documented to find potential solutions to their particular problems.

Of course there are a myriad of other benefits of using Idea Management software - such as greater process transparency, accounting of benefits, and greater collaboration amongst users who may not necessarily be in the same location – but we’ll leave those for another discussion.

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