What is Yokoten?

Yokoten is a Lean Six Sigma process for sharing learning, best practices, data, and knowledge laterally across an organization. That sounds complicated, but actually, it can be very simple. To demonstrate the principle of Yokoten, join me as we take a short hike through a forest.

Yokoten – Nature’s Best Offering

Doesn’t the shade from the majestic trees above our heads feel wonderful? It’s hard to believe that these immense trees were once just a small seed that fell from earlier trees. Perhaps, many years ago, it all started with just one tree. With each season, it expanded out until it became a great forest.

With nurturing from proper soil and weather conditions, each of those seeds sprouted and grew. They’re not clones, but have taken on a life of their own—adapting differently to their own unique environment.

In your organization, yokoten functions much like a healthy growing forest. It entails copying and improving on continuous improvement ideas that work in one department or team. You can think of yokoten as “horizontal deployment” or “sideways expansion.”

Best practice sharing

Yokoten is more peer-to-peer, with the expectation that you go see for yourself and learn how others have solved a problem or improved a system similar to the problems or systems in your own department or team. You take their knowledge, and “plant” it in your department.

In fact, yokoten is a form of knowledge management. It encompasses the methods of documenting and distributing knowledge about what works and what doesn’t.

As a knowledge management device, Yokoten makes knowledge organizational, not individual. Yokoten is a two-way street, requiring proactive effort from both those acquiring and developing the knowledge, and those who could benefit from greater understanding of the requirements for success.

If others are doing well, people tend to be interested in what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, so that they, too, can be successful. Sharing best practices is a key part attributing to the success of any organization.

It’s important to learn from individual, personal experiences. But similar to the old saying, “learn from other’s mistakes,” it’s much easier and more effective to learn from the experiences, mistakes, and successes of others.

Using Yokoten for Ease of communication

For yokoten to be successful it requires a culture of sharing to be developed. Most organizations new to continuous improvement management find this difficult because there’s 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.

Much of best practice knowledge is held in people’s heads and not always easy to document. As a result, yokoten combines two key elements: a best practices database which connects people with information, and methods for sharing knowledge which connects people with people.

A best practices database or system like KPI Software makes it easy for team members to find projects and solutions related to the problems they are working on. Rather than reinvent the wheel so to speak they can replicate what others have done and build on their accomplishments.

Well documented projects in a continuous improvement database can provide enough information for a potential user of the best practice to find it and decide if it is worth pursuing further. However, the best way to share best practices is at the Gemba or place where the improvement took place. Once a solution is found in the database team members should contact the project team who first implemented the best practice and meet with them to see the new process in person.

Yokoten is a success multiplier

Yokoten is an essential part of long-term success in a Lean culture, but can also have a big impact on short-term results.

Senior leaders: actively go see, recognize good work, and require others to go see.

Management: organize presentations of successful continuous improvement projects and invite colleagues to attend and learn.

Team and department leaders: actively engage members in studying kaizen examples, and motivating them to start continuous improvement projects on their own.

In Conclusion of Yokoten

To implement Yokoten successfully, it’s important that an organization 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 organization.

Regardless of your path on the Lean journey, focusing on the accumulation and transfer of knowledge and learnings as embodied in the concept of Yokoten can have a tremendous impact on the overall results and success of your Lean programs.