Yokoten is a very powerful concept. If implemented correctly, the process of yokoten can continuously improve processes throughout an entire organisation. Yet few organisations are neither aware of it or have considered using this very underrated tool.

As a starting point, I think it is fair to say the concepts of business improvement and Lean manufacturing are continuing to gain use and visibility on a number of fronts. The problem is that all too often, Lean is seen by many organisations as the best hope for cutting cost and regaining their competitive edge and not as a long-term strategic process.  The UK food sector, one would argue, has fallen foul to this many times, as the big supermarket giants apply pressure to reduce costs in their supply base.

The advantages of Lean manufacturing go beyond just productivity gains, decreased cycle time and inventory. Lean thinking should be considered as a management philosophy and a business culture. It is not a one-off program; it is a continuous journey, and processes need to be put in place to ensure that the entire organisation understand this and are continually challenged to keep finding opportunities and eliminating waste.

So let’s look at just one methodology that can be used strategically that not only maintains the status quo but also helps gain momentum. It focuses on the idea of sharing learning gained in one department, across the entire organisation. Its name …Yokoten

 So what is Yokoten?

Yokoten is the concept of ‘horizontal deployment of learning’. It is the practice of learning from one opportunity and copying the results from that one improvement in one area to all other areas of the organisation. The principle of Yokoten is not just confined to improvements in the manufacturing process. Opportunities for improvement exist in every corner of a business so the Yokoten principle can also be applied to most areas of a business. For example, copying successful product design ideas from one model range to another or finding a better machine setting and applying that to all similar machines across the entire department or even across different sites within the same organisation globally.

But for Yokoten to be successful it requires a culture of sharing to be developed. Most organisations new to business improvement find this difficult because there is a level of silo thinking. A level of openness needs to be developed in a structured way. Departments need to share both their successes and failures. Yokoten, is about knowledge and solution sharing.

Ideas should spread horizontally by people seeing things for themselves. The concept of Genchi genbutsu – go and see, needs to be developed and encouraged. This tool does not have a top-down approach. However, senior managers in an organisation do have to drive this behaviour so that employees will benefit from observing others good ideas.

This can be done in some very simple ways. Asking the right questions at the right time should become the norm. For example, following a breakdown a few very simple questions should be asked.

  • Do we have a full-term fix in place, not a ‘band-aid’?
  • Have we confirmed the full fix is working?
  • What have we learnt?
  • Could this problem occur anywhere else?

The last two questions are vital to developing the right culture for Yokoten to exist. The behaviour needs to be driven and the expectation needs to be set that employees will ‘go and see’ and look for other similar opportunities for improvement.

To implement Yokoten successfully, it is important that an organisation develops and nurtures an atmosphere of openness, whereby information regarding both success and failure of particular processes is shared freely across different departments and parts of the organisation.

Although Yokoten alone will not fix issues, the behaviours it helps develop will help elevate an organisations thinking of lean from being a short-term way of getting quick local improvements to being a long-term, strategic process. It will help break down silo thinking and kick-start the process of people looking for opportunities across the organisation and help them in understanding the bigger picture.