Ever heard of Yokoten?


Having spent years working in a Toyota plant I know what makes it tick, and what to a large degree gives Toyota its competitive edge when it comes to productivity and ultimately the very high ‘uptime’ of the process.

In this blog I thought I would discuss one of the skill’s that the team at Toyota have that I am yet to experience with such commitment anywhere else. A technique known as Yokoten.

When a problem of any nature, be it safety, quality, breakdown, or supply chain occurs, you would expect the problem is very quickly addressed, a countermeasure is put in place and importantly, the countermeasure is confirmed as good by proper checks.

This is where Toyota introduces the differentiator, Yokoten

A very simple question is asked “Is there any potential that the problem could occur somewhere else at some point in the future?”

The discipline of the Toyota production system then requires the team to religiously perform checks to find out the answer, as a matter of priority.

If the answer is yes, the fix from the original problem is quickly put in place in all the locations that have the potential for the original issue to manifest itself. Thus preventing a future issue occurring.

This is done, even if there is a cost or time implication, because the cost of a further breakdown or quality issue would be far greater in the long run.

Yokoten is almost a religion. The question is asked every time by managers at problem reviews. Importantly, no blame is apportioned when a problem is highlighted. Everyone understands the philosophy. It’s simple.

‘To find a problem once is good, it’s an opportunity to improve. But to find it a second time means the system has failed.’

The focus is on prevention of reoccurrence and not on a witch hunt to apportion blame.

When an A3 report is used, the final two questions are ‘does this issue exist elsewhere’ and ‘has Yokoten been completed’. Only when these two questions are answered, is the problem considered closed.

Yokoten is also strengthened through regular departmental meetings in order to ensure cross learning is maximised.

Yokoten does not stop at plant level. Production working group meetings between representatives of all plants are held on a regular basis. Careful attention is paid to best practices at all the facilities.

This level of use of Yokoten helps to ensure that all plants learn from each other and maintain levels of safety, quality and performance across the entire organisation.

Yokoten is a very powerful tool, simple in concept. Many mangers and organisations could use it without any cost. It is in reality just one extra question at the end of the resolution of a problem. All it really requires is discipline and commitment.

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