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Yokoten


A Japanese word that means to deploy across the organization knowledge or know-how.


When there is a great Kaizen, as a business, you want to deploy that Kaizen across your organization as soon as possible.


There is a challenge to this activity. You don’t want other people to become a copycat.


Here are some thoughts.



Yokoten is becoming a popular word in this community. Yet, like many other Japanese words in this lean community, the approach is left as an interpretation of individuals. I don’t think there is one correct way of doing Yokoten.

The challenge of this activity is to avoid developing copycats. Kaizen is not copying the ideas of someone else. Kaizen is about generating its own ideas. If we make this philosophy rigid and wait until others come up with similar ideas, your company might lose precious time. Yokoten is about the delicate balance between time and the ownership of idea generation.


Here are some models for discussion.


1. Push


There was a great Kaizen made. The senior management was amazed not only by the results but with the team. Each member of the group was congratulated. And at the end of the day, the senior manager said, “you guys will implement this Kaizen globally.” The team’s smile disappeared.

The team’s suffering started. Their idea was rejected at other plants. “Why do we need to listen to you?” This was the primary reaction. Some received unacceptable comments. (Which we later let the HR take care of.) Some were told, “Ah, the creative guys are here. Please work on this problem.” The problem had nothing to do with the Kaizen. The plant manager of the team was getting frustrated. “My best team is exhausted. And their performance here is going down.” After a few months, the senior manager apologized for the mistake.


How often do we encounter a situation where the original implementer of the Kaizen is responsible for deployment? And it is not the wrong choice. They know the most about the great Kaizen. But we also need to consider why and how they came up with the idea. The reason for success might not be available at another site. Maybe it was the management. It could be familiarity with the technology and product. Perhaps it was the trust of the people. Whatever it was, the team might be unable to deal with or change the environment.

What is more critical is ownership. The team is still responsible for keeping their plant operating and improving. Now they need to implement the Kaizen in different places. Huge contradiction. The ownership of the process in the other sites is with someone else. From the other place's point of view, the team is a foreign object. Why would they allow someone to change their process?

Another negative impact is that the receiving side stops thinking about Kaizen. For them, Kaizen means copying ideas from somewhere else. It is an activity in which someone comes and does those for them.

We should respect those who came up with the Kaizen, but they might not be the best choice of “Yokoten.”


2. Top-down


After the struggle, the senior manager appointed the corporate lean guy to deploy the Kaizen. He took pictures of the Kaizen and e-mailed them everywhere. A few months later, when the senior manager followed up with the corporate on Yokote, the answer was “they don’t want to implement.”


The responsibility of Yokoten belongs to the senior management. And having some corporate staff to share that responsibility is very helpful. Yet, “how” is very important. Because of information technology, advances make sharing pictures, videos, presentations, and documents with anybody globally easy. But that does not mean that the Yokoten will go well. That doesn’t mean that the receiving side will have the passion for implementing. A slight unclearness in the information will become a vast criticism. Sometimes it ends with a comment, “that was interesting.” In many cases, the files were not even opened.


3. Pull


As we struggled with Yokoten, my coach said, “We need to create a “pull.” An eagerness to learn from other sites. He did not intend to compare just by numbers. He wanted the other plant managers to come to see what the Kaizen was. Yet, he didn’t want to organize a “site-seeing tour,” since he knew very well that nothing would happen.

We organized a workshop with the plant managers. We did not mention the Kaizen we wanted to Yokoten. We instead kept the topic more open. Upon arrival on the shop floor, many recognized interesting Kaizen. But the theme of the workshop was to improve further. So they need to understand Kaizen and improve more.

At the end of the workshop, with the senior manager and plant managers, we discussed the Yokoten. Many did request some of the host team members to visit and help with their plants. We quickly denied that option with examples of what had happened. Some asked to organize a similar workshop for their people. My coach denied that idea. He asked the plant managers to start trying.

Those who actually tried were the ones that succeeded in Yokoten. As they tried, they learned that what they initially thought to copy the Kaizen was insufficient. Or they understood that they only saw the tip of the iceberg. Instead, what was below the water was more important. Before, what we were transferring were shapes and physical aspects. The actual difference came from the system: material handling, maintenance, scheduling, quality, etc. All these systems impacted the shape. Those who understood the underwater differences were able to become a good competitors of Kaizen.

And, as other factories developed the Kaizen capabilities, it became significant for the corporate office to be involved. They need to know what was the most advanced technics globally. They need to know the reason for the differences or the variants. They must understand each person’s capabilities to facilitate suitable workshops promoting Yokoten. Such systematic preparations for Yokoten are their responsibility.



Yokoten. The Japanese word for transferring Kaizen across organizations. You want to deploy quickly as a business leader to gain financial gains. At the same time, you don’t want to destroy the learning opportunities of others. Yokoten is not about developing copycats. It is this antinomy that we must think about to promote Yokoten. I hope this helps you to think about how to do Yokoten.

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