Poka Yoke for your PC


    Personal Technology – WSJ.com

    The Wall Street Journal has an article today about two automated online backup systems, Mozy and Carbonite. Each costs about $50 a year to automatically, in the background, backup your files to a remote online server.

    I've had two hard drives crash — one in college (a 20 MEGAbyte hard drive — not enough room to hold one Podcast) and one about three years ago at home. Neither was well backed up. I lost a bunch of digital photos from that most recent crash and I tried to learn my lesson.

    I tried burning CD's, then DVD's, on a regular basis, but wasn't real good at remembering. So I put a monthly reminder on my calendar, but that was too easy to ignore. At home, we have a network with a desktop and a laptop PC. I installed the program FolderShare (now owned by Microsoft) that automatically synchs files between two PCs. That keeps all of our files backed up and is OK if the house never burns down. It's automatic, which is the best form of Poka Yoke, right? I might still try one of the online services for extra protection.

    Now, for work files, my laptop is incredibly critical. Every month, it seems, someone in my consulting group has a laptop problem where they have to be without. Not always a total HD crash, but something bad enough that it has to be sent in for repair. What do to without your files?

    My poka yoke there was an external hard drive, like one of these. For under a hundred bucks, you get some piece of mind. I still have to remember to plug the drive in, which I do weekly or after doing any really critical work. But, I have some nice inexpensive software called Allway Sync that works very well for automatically pulling new/updated files off the laptop onto the portable drive.

    I should probably also use an online backup service in case my bag gets stolen and the laptop and drive are BOTH gone. Poka Yoke against theft, in that case.

    In fact, I'm going to back up right now! I hope you avoid computer problems and try to use Poka Yoke in your work life as much as you can.

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. Isn’t that amazing that just a few years ago, 20 MB was a huge amount of data. You would have to try really hard to fill that drive up. Nowadays, most podcasts are bigger than 20 MB. In my pen drive, I can fit 400 20 MB hard drives. When I was in high school, back in 1993, my favorite magazine was Computer Shopper. I used to read it every month and watch the price of computer equipment fall. In my economics class, I decided to do a study of the price of hard drive storage. By studying several months of Computer Shopper and plotting the trends, I concluded that the size of storage would skyrocket as the price of storage fell like a stone. My conclusion was that by some year, we would have gigabytes for a few dollars. When I presented the report, my teacher said, “Yeah right.” She thought I was crazy. Of course, I had the last laugh on that one.

      Experiences like that are important. It taught me to follow and believe the data even in the face of opposition from a higher authority.

    2. I just backed-up onto my server; thanks for the reminder. I like your example of Poka Yoke in everyday life.

      I work in a factory, and it’s hard to get people to understand the importance of mistake-proofing. There’s always this habit of relying on installers to do the job right, instead of making it impossible to do it wrong. While I think it’s important to expect quality from your people, it’s negligent to rely only on their personal pride to get the job done correctly.


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