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Guest Post: What is “Yokoten?”

by Lean Pathways, Inc. on May 3, 2011 · 4 comments

Mark’s Note: Today’s post is from Al Norval, with the firm Lean Pathways, Inc.

al Guest Post: What is Yokoten? leanIn the Lean world we hear all kinds of Japanese words. Indeed, it seems like a badge of honour to know obscure Japanese words that baffle your fellow teammates. I’d like to highlight one that isn’t mainstream but is critically important –  Yokoten.

Yokoten is a process for sharing learning laterally across an organization. It entails copying and improving on kaizen ideas that work. You can think of yokoten as “horizontal deployment” or “sideways expansion”. The corresponding image is one of ideas unfolding across an organization. Yokoten is horizontal and peer-to-peer, with the expectation that people go see for themselves and learn how another area did kaizen and then improve on those kaizen ideas in the application to their local problems.

It’s not a vertical, top-down requirement to “copy exactly”. Nor is it a “best practices” or “benchmarking” approach nor is it as some organizations refer to a “lift and shift” model. Rather, it is a process where people are encouraged to go see for themselves, and return to their own area to add their own wisdom and ideas to the knowledge they gained.

Simply put, Yokoten equals copy and improve. The role of the senior managers is to make people aware of the existence of these good  kaizen examples so that they can go see for themselves, gain the knowledge and improve upon it further. Simply telling subordinates to copy it may be kaizen of a sort but it would not serve the second important aspect of the Toyota Production System, the respect for and development of people.

An effective Yokoten process is a critical step to building capability within the organization and becoming a true learning organization. It truly is one of the capabilities of outstanding organizations.

Alistair Norval is a professional engineer who developed his skills at Eastman Kodak Company, where he helped design and implement the Kodak Operating System, based on the principles of the  Toyota Production System.   In this capacity, he received in-depth personal training with leading international senseis. He has applied lean methods in new product development and the  supply chain  and has a passion to apply lean thinking across the enterprise so as to achieve consistently superior results.

Mark’s conflict of interest statement: I do some subcontract work with Al and the Lean Pathways team, so I have a financial relationship with them.


Mark Graban 2011 Smaller Guest Post: What is Yokoten? leanAbout LeanBlog.org: Mark Graban is a consultant, author, and speaker in the “lean healthcare” methodology. Mark is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as the new Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. Mark is also the VP of Innovation and Improvement Services for KaiNexus.


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1 Mark Graban
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May 3, 2011 at 7:49 am

I had a discussion with my friend Mike Lombard, which he turned into a blog post:

http://hospitalkaizen.blogspot.com/2011/05/3-quick-thoughts-on-copycatting.html

There’s a big difference between Yokoten and blind copying. Yokoten, for example, is practiced at ThedaCare, where there’s an obligation to learn from another department but also an obligation to THINK and to IMPROVE, sharing your ideas back with those who went before you.

Here is a video from a Jim Womack visit to ThedaCare on Yokoten:

http://www.createhealthcarevalue.com/blog/post/?bid=109

I’ve been at many other hospitals where people say “just give us the answer” as if that answer would be a substitute for thinking and PDCA experimentation. Don’t reinvent the wheel, but don’t just use somebody else’s wheel without thinking and improving it.

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2 Michael Lombard
Twitter:
May 3, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Good post, and good comment by Mark. I wanted to emphasize what you said at the end, Mark, which was “as if the answer would be a substitute for thinking and PDCA experimentation.” I couldn’t agree more. Truly understanding the current-state, analyzing root causes, designing countermeasures (or adopting countermeasures obtained elsewhere, possibly via yokoten), testing countermeasures, and making adjustments based on what we learn from the testing. In that context, yokoten is a powerful and truly wonderful concept.
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3 Mark Graban
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May 3, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Thanks, Mike. And I’ll add, as we’ve discussed, that I think there’s a role and a proper timing for learning from other organizations.

I prefer to have people look at another organization’s methods AFTER they have already taken a first stab at their own process design or improvement. Seeing what others have done can limit creativity, as there’s such a natural urge to copy something that’s “proven to work” someplace else. Except our organization is different… which is one reason we need to copy and adapt, not just copy. Learning from others – other departments or other organizations – can play a role, but it can’t be the only approach to improvement.

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