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Poka-yoke: What it is and how it can help your business

a photo of kitchen staff working in a high-paced, error-prone environment

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A poka-yoke system reduces mistakes by “fool-proofing” a product or service. Poka-yoke techniques are used in many industries to prevent errors from happening. In restaurants, for example, they ensure that the food is prepared correctly and that it meets the high standards of the establishment. Because of that, poka-yoke is an important tool in preventing foodborne illnesses and ensuring the safety of the customers. But there’s more to it. Poka-yoke techniques also improve efficiency and lead to better customer service.

In this article, we will define what poka-yoke means, explain how it can improve your business, and provide a few examples of poka-yoke in action.

What is poka-yoke, and where does it come from?

Poka-yoke is a Japanese term that means “error-proofing”. The technique was developed by Shigeo Shingo, who was a quality control expert for Toyota. Poka-yoke is a system of interlocking techniques that are meant to reduce errors, eliminate defects, and improve the quality of the product or service. The poka-yoke system is based on the idea that it is easier to prevent errors than it is to correct them. With poka-yoke, you eliminate the steps that could result in mistakes.

A simple example of poka-yoke is using different shapes and colors to differentiate between similar items. For example, Toyota uses red cans for diesel fuel and yellow cans for regular unleaded gas. A worker filling up a car would never confuse the two since they know that a yellow can means unleaded gas and a red one means diesel fuel.

Another common poka-yoke is the use of checklists in business processes or procedures. A checklist is a list of steps with corresponding boxes to indicate whether each step has been completed at each stage in the process. In surgery, for example, a checklist can prevent a doctor from leaving a sponge in a patient or removing the wrong organ during an operation!

How poka-yoke can improve your business’ bottom line

There are many ways poka-yoke systems can help your business become more efficient so you can provide better customer service. Some of the ways poka-yoke can help include:

  1. Preventing errors from happening
  2. Promoting workplace health and safety (for staff and customers)
  3. Improving efficiency
  4. Improving customer service

For example, restaurants can use poka-yoke techniques to prevent employees from making mistakes when preparing the food. This will lead to fewer errors and less waste, which will save the restaurant time and money.

What is the error-proofing process?

The whole point of poka-yoke is to prevent mistakes, which means being aware of mistakes when they happen. A mistake that happens more than once is a ripe candidate for the poka-yoke process.

To use poka-yoke, start by identifying the steps that lead to a specific error. Then, create a simple mechanism that will prevent the error from happening again in the future.

For example, consider the case of an employee who drops items on the floor before serving them to customers. If this happens time and time again, it may be a good candidate for poka-yoke. Either way, the first step should be to find out what is causing the error. Maybe the item is a pair of stainless steel tongs, and the reason they’re being dropped is that they get greasy halfway through the shift and become more difficult to grip. Whatever the reason, you need to identify what’s causing the mistake to happen repeatedly, especially if it happens to more than one employee.

Once you know why the errors are happening, you can create an effective poka-yoke system that won’t allow them to happen again. You might decide to purchase serving tongs with rubber grips or design another tool that will help them move food even if it gets greasy.

Examples of error-proofing in restaurants

If we stick with the restaurant example, there are quite a few ways poka-yoke can improve the quality of food and the safety of guests. Some of the most common examples of poka-yoke include:

  • Using checklists to make sure that everything is prepared properly
  • Labeling ingredients and utensils so that they are easy to identify
  • Restricting access to certain areas of the kitchen so that only authorized personnel can enter
  • Training employees on how to prepare food safely

The common thread in all of these examples is that they prevent mistakes, which is what poka-yoke is all about! (You can check out some more poka-yoke examples here.)

There are many ways poka-yoke systems can help your business become more efficient so you can provide better customer service. The next time a mistake happens more than once, ask why. What led to the mistake? Then, come up with a simple solution for preventing the same mistake from happening again. That’s all there is to it!

If you’re ready to take your error-proofing to the next level, check out TimeForge labor management. We not only have built-in task management (checklists), but our employee scheduling software is designed to prevent common scheduling mistakes, like overtime and labor law violations.

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