By Al Norval
In the Lean world we hear all kinds of Japanese words. Indeed, it seems like a badge of honour to know obscure Japanese words that baffle your fellow teammates. I’d like to highlight one that isn’t mainstream but is critically important – Yokoten.
Yokoten is a process for sharing learning laterally across an organization. It entails copying and improving on kaizen ideas that work. You can think of yokoten as "horizontal deployment" or "sideways expansion". The corresponding image is one of ideas unfolding across an organization. Yokoten is horizontal and peer-to-peer, with the expectation that people go see for themselves and learn how another area did kaizen and then improve on those kaizen ideas in the application to their local problems.
It's not a vertical, top-down requirement to "copy exactly". Nor is it a “best practices” or “benchmarking” approach nor is it as some organizations refer to a “lift and shift” model. Rather, it is a process where people are encouraged to go see for themselves, and return to their own area to add their own wisdom and ideas to the knowledge they gained.
Simply put, Yokoten equals copy and improve. The role of the senior managers is to make people aware of the existence of these good kaizen examples so that they can go see for themselves, gain the knowledge and improve upon it further. Simply telling subordinates to copy it may be kaizen of a sort but it would not serve the second important aspect of the Toyota Production System, the respect for and development of people.
An effective Yokoten process is a critical step to building capability within the organization and becoming a true learning organization. It truly is one of the capabilities of outstanding organizations.