Poka-yoke is a technique that aims to prevent operator mistake, or at least minimize it down to acceptable levels. It’s based on the philosophy that human error cannot be completely avoided no matter what one does, while on the other hand, it’s also impossible to prevent mistakes arising from other reasons, so it doesn’t make sense to put any effort into trying to fight against those. There are various subtle details to how poka-yoke should be implemented in an organization, and studying it in full detail is recommended for leaders of organizations that perpetually suffer from poor performance stemming from human error.
1. Identify the appropriate type of error detection
There are several modes of error detection that poka-yoke recognizes, and it’s important to realize that choosing the right one can make all the difference in the results you see. For example, you could test a completed piece against the values of some of its attributes compared to a baseline model. Or, you could check if certain values exceed their appropriate ranges. Sometimes, certain modes of detection will not even make sense in the context of the way a specific part works, so you’ll need to put some serious thinking into that aspect of poka-yoke’s implementation in your business.
2. Ensure that proper procedures are in place to act when a defect occurs
So far, so good – you can detect human errors in your processes with relatively good accuracy. What do your operators do when an error does get detected? It’s just as important to ensure that there are appropriate procedures in place for working around those issues and resuming the normal workflow. Sometimes companies pay too little attention to that and end up simply moving the bottleneck to another part of the process. Study the way your processes work and figure out what the most appropriate way to deal with an issue of each type would be, so that your workers are prepared when the time comes.
3. Implement a system for long-term learning from errors
And of course, it’s also important to ensure that you gain some valuable knowledge and experience from those situations where you run into errors. To this end, you have to ensure that adequate data collection and retention systems are in place, as well as a good way to search through all the information that’s been gathered. And then, you’ll obviously also need to make sure that this information gets properly used and doesn’t just end up in some random archive.
4. Continuously develop the system
If you’ve done everything correctly so far, you should have a robust system that constantly teaches you new things about the way your operations flow, and this should allow you to make further improvements to the error verification system itself. Take the new knowledge you’ve gathered and figure out a way to boost the accuracy and/or productivity of the error detection system, and this will pay for itself in the long run. It’s sometimes a lot of effort, and it’s not the kind of work that most leaders find pleasant, but the benefits you’ll get in the end are more than worth all of it.
5. Get input from the operators themselves
Last but not least, you will want to make sure that you have a good overview of how things are flowing on the most fundamental level. Get as much input as you can from the people who run your operations, and consult them on what types of errors they most frequently run into and other similar factors. You may sometimes gain valuable insights into the way your operations run just from that alone, and this knowledge can show you new ways to figure out when errors are coming up in your production processes.