In business, we all make mistakes. Sometimes they’re small, and sometimes they can be big and costly. But what if there was a way to avoid making those mistakes in the first place? That’s where poka-yoke comes in. It’s a simple technique that can be applied in many different ways to your own business to avoid making costly mistakes. Here’s what poka-yoke is all about, plus some examples to spark your error-proofing mindset.
Why should you care about poka-yoke?
“Poka-yoke” is a Japanese term that means “mistake-proofing.” It may have a funny-sounding name, but it’s a system that helps you avoid (yokeru) mistakes (poka). Poka-yoke techniques can be applied in many different ways to your own business to avoid making costly mistakes. The goal of poka-yoke is to make it impossible for mistakes to happen, or at least make them very difficult so that they’re less likely to occur.
There are many reasons why you should care about poka-yoke if you’re a business owner. First of all, it can help you save money by preventing costly errors. It can also help you improve work quality and productivity, and it can make your business more efficient. In addition, poka-yoke techniques can help you create a safer environment for your employees and (if you’re in the hospitality industry) your guests.
Here are some common examples of poka-yoke solutions used across a variety of industries:
1. Error-proofing in manufacturing
One of the most common applications of poka-yoke is in manufacturing. In factories, there are often many steps in the production process, and it’s easy for mistakes to occur. Poka-yoke helps to prevent these mistakes by ensuring that each step is foolproof. For example, a factory might use sensors to detect whether or not a component is in the correct place, or it might use color-coded parts to ensure that they are put together in the correct order.
2. Error-proofing in retail
An example of poka-yoke in retail is using barcodes to scan items. Barcodes make scanning items efficient and reduce the likelihood of human error. Another example is the use of fingerprint clock-ins. Employees clock in and out using a fingerprint scanner instead of a card or password. This prevents them from forgetting their card (or password) and prevents other people from clocking in on their behalf (a practice known as “buddy punching”).
3. Error-proofing in healthcare
An example of poka-yoke in healthcare is the use of warning labels to prevent medication errors. Many different types of drugs are dispensed in pill form, and there are often many different versions (size, shape, color, etc.). To reduce the risk of confusing one type with another (or giving the wrong dose to a patient), pharmacies often add warning labels to help identify each type. Another example is the use of color-coded wristbands for patients. Wristbands help to identify the severity of a patient’s illness and ensure that they receive treatment accordingly.
4. Error-proofing in transportation
An example of poka-yoke in the transportation industry is the use of electronic stability control systems. These can reduce the number of accidents by detecting when a car is going out of control and applying brakes, reducing engine power, or both in order to keep it from skidding. In fact, poka-yoke was invented by a Japanese company that was working with automakers to reduce vehicle accidents.
5. Error-proofing in food service
A common example of error-proofing in food service is the use of checklists. Using a checklist to make sure that every step of the cooking process gets completed (or as many as possible) can help ensure food quality and safety, and it can also improve work efficiency. Another example is the use of timers with lights or beeps at certain stages of food preparation. For example, if you’re frying bacon slices in a pan, you might set the timer to go off after 2 minutes (to indicate that it’s time to turn them).
6. Error-proofing in software development
No one likes dealing with software bugs! An example of poka-yoke in software development is the use of test cases. Software developers run test cases to help ensure that all necessary factors have been taken into account. This reduces the likelihood of users finding those errors later and makes for a more stable product. For example, because our labor management software is highly customizable, we use test cases here at TimeForge to ensure that our application runs smoothly no matter how you configure your account.
BONUS: Error-proofing in hotels, spas, and resorts
Update! We just added a whole guide to poka-yoke examples in the hotel industry. It includes several great ways to make poka-yoke work for you in a hospitality setting.
How do you implement poka-yoke into your company’s processes or procedures for best results?
There are a few things that you can do to make sure that you’re getting the best results from poka-yoke in your business. First of all, make sure that you’re using the right type of poka-yoke for your needs. For example, a checklist doesn’t make sense if you’re putting together a product with only one piece or ingredient. But a checklist is helpful if you’re whipping up made-to-order burgers or taking care of customers over the phone.
You also need to make sure that you properly implement the solution into your company’s processes and procedures. Then, you need to train your employees to follow the procedures you’ve laid out. Be sure to regularly audit your processes to make sure that poka-yoke is still effective and prevents mistakes from happening.
How to avoid common mistakes when implementing poka-yoke
When implementing poka-yoke into your company’s processes or procedures, try to avoid common pitfalls. Here are four tips and poka-yoke examples to help you get started:
- The poka-yoke devices need to be easy to use and understand. A clear 1-page checklist is much easier to follow than a rambling 5-page checklist, for example!
- The devices need to be reliable and accurate. Test them out to make sure they actually prevent mistakes instead of causing more unexpectedly.
- Create a plan to regularly review your poka-yoke procedures to make sure they’re working.
- Properly train your employees for any poka-yoke devices or techniques you implement.
One last bit of advice: make sure that poka-yoke doesn’t become annoying to deal with. If it makes people feel like they’re being treated like children (or impedes their workflow), they’ll lose interest and stop using it. They may even resent you for it! So always check in with your team to ensure that your error-proofing solution is working for you – not against you.