Poka-Yoke: Mistake Proofing Your Processes
By John Compton
Everything we do in our work is accomplished through a process. All processes have suppliers, inputs, activities, outputs, and customers. This basic building block of work is illustrated in the figure below. Our processes produce the goods and services that our customers buy. Unfortunately, these same processes also produce mistakes, defects, and nonconforming product. A prime goal of continuous improvement is to prevent such unwanted occurrences.
Poka-yoke “pronounced POH-kah YOH-keh” is Japanese for mistake proofing. A poka-yoke is any mechanism that either prevents a mistake from being made, reduces the chances of a mistake, or makes the mistake obvious. The goal is to improve the process so that mistakes and defects are less likely to be made or, if made, they are spotted quickly.
The best poka-yokes are inexpensive, simple, easy to implement, and specific to the need. Everyday examples of mistake proofing include spell check on computers, overflow outlets on sinks, ground fault interrupters, and child-proof caps on medicine bottles.
Error proofing falls into two categories: physical and operational. Physical error proofing involves installing fixtures or sensors to eliminate conditions that lead to errors or indicate that an error has occurred. Operational error proofing involves making modifications or installing devices that reinforce the correct procedure sequence.
How to Use Poka-yoke
- Identify the operation or process that needs to be mistake proofed (areas where there are high numbers of errors, where even single errors are very costly, or safety concerns are evident).
- Use the 5 Whys or cause and effect analysis to get to the root of the problem.
- Decide whether to use a prevention or attention type of method to tackle the problem. With the latter, a poka-yoke is designed to detect defects, which initiates corrective action.
- Design an appropriate poka-yoke.
- Test it to see if it works (avoid large expense before you have completed this step; use mockups or make-do’s).
- Once you have a working method, ensure you have the right tools/checklists/software, etc., for it to work consistently and correctly.
- Train everyone to use it.
- After it has been in operation for a while (the time period will depend on the frequency of the activity) review performance to ensure mistakes have been eliminated.
- Take whatever steps are needed to improve on what you have done.
Every mistake proofing activity should keep the following principles of zero defects in mind:
Don’t accept a defect from a supplier.
Don’t make a defect.
Don’t pass on a defect to your customer.
By taking steps to make it harder to make mistakes, waste is prevented and processes run more smoothly. Poka-yokes help ensure quality at the source instead of quality after the fact.
The Basic Building Blocks of a Process
It’s the Little Things that Matter
By Paola L.S. Bozzer, TC Transcontinental Printing
During the months of April and May, while being confined to my home in Montréal (Québec, Canada), a veritable COVID-19 hotspot, I watched more television than I normally do because what I normally do had been put on “pause.” The warm spring weather was nowhere to be seen and there were only so many chores to occupy my time…
I was struck by how commercials have changed—for the better. I actually watched them (instead of hitting the fast forward button like I would normally do):
- The car manufacturer foregoing trying to sell us its latest model and telling us what financial help is available should we need it
- The banks thanking front-line employees for their unwavering efforts
- The soft drink giant thanking the human race for “filling the glass with kindness and hope” in the face of so many obstacles
- The fast food giants’ and retailers’ messages of gratitude to their staff and patrons for “staying home to help stop the spread”
And many others …
Winston Churchill famously said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” And I hope that the lessons that we have learned over the course of this pandemic will stay with us and make us even better human beings.
According to Gallup (a global analytics and advice firm), in 2019, the level of engaged* employees reached a record high of 35% (when they first started measuring this metric in 2000, it was at 26%) and the percentage of actively disengaged* workers tied its lowest level of 13% (recorded back in 2018), making the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged workers 2.7-to-1, the highest ever in Gallup tracking1.
While numbers are trending in the right direction, this still means that 65% of the workforce is either disengaged or not engaged* (52%).
Gallup has estimated that this complacency costs organizations approximately 34% of their employees’ annual salaries (in other words $3,400 for every $10,000 they make)2. So, it just makes good business sense to increase engagement levels. The illustration below summarizes the benefits:
According to the literature, to maximize engagement, three areas need to be targeted:
- Head (intellectual buy-in)
- Hands (appropriate behaviours/actions)
- Heart (emotional buy-in)
This is exactly why those commercials had such a big impact on me—they struck a chord in all three areas.
Leaders everywhere should take a cue from those commercials—show you care and build trust through your words and deeds.
And the biggest impact does not necessarily come from the grandest gesture; little things can make all the difference in the world.
To illustrate, here is an excellent video (only 6 minutes long) entitled “Leading with Lollipops”: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVCBrkrFrBE. Wishing you many lollipop moments in the future.
By Jim Workman, PRINTING United Alliance
Looking for a way to be more effective? The concept of personal Kanban may be your solution. During the final day of our Continuous Improvement Ready! virtual conference event in June, Rhonda Huskins of SCMEP explained how the notion of Kanban can be applied to work tasks.
Kanban is best known as a scheduling system used in Lean manufacturing and originally took its name from cards used to track production within a factory. Printing companies that use such cards typically do so to signal when to replenish consumables, parts, and work-in-process (WIP).
A Kanban system allows a company to visualize workflow, which in turns allows the company to track progress and identify bottlenecks. It also seeks to limit WIP by finishing outstanding work before starting new work. The goal is to have a smoother flow of work and avoid delays.
About 10 years ago, Kanban began being applied to individual work management. As a time-management system, it’s highly visual so that you can easily see what needs to get done, what you’re working on, what your priorities are, and what you’ve accomplished. It helps avoid too much personal WIP and becoming overloaded to the point that tasks are overlooked or never finished.
Huskins reviewed the simplicity of the system and its advantages over other systems such as to-do lists. Personal Kanban is based on segregating your work tasks into columns. In a five-column system the columns are.
- Ready. All tasks that will take longer than a few minutes to accomplish.
- Today. Items that you’re going to focus on during that workday.
- Doing. The few items (three or fewer) that you are currently working on.
- Waiting. Reserved for items that are stalled until someone else provides information or makes a decision.
- Done. The column bulging with completed tasks.
Just like Kanban cards in the factory, the personal system is often a physical display on a white board or large sheet. Columns are drawn and small sticky notes used to assign work tasks. As daily work is planned, the board is updated. There is also software available, such as Trello, KanbanFlow, Breeze, and Project Manager. A spreadsheet program can even be used.
There are fine points regarding how to handle specific situations, focus on priorities, not allow too many tasks to end up in the Doing column, and apply the concept to teams. Experiment with personal Kanban and see if it makes you more effective. The best book on the topic is Personal Kanban: Mapping Work, Navigating Life by Jim Benson and Tonianne D. Barry.
Continuous Improvement Newsletter is published quarterly by PRINTING United Alliance in support of its spring Continuous Improvement Conference. Send submissions and subscription requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.