Poka-Yoke is yet another Japanese concept widely used in the world of business and management. Poka Yoke is also known as or the essence of the term is mistake proofing or avoiding mistakes. So, the application of Poka Yoke means you are deploying measures to avoid mistakes or errors. Imagine that while cooking a curry you forgot whether you have added salt or not. So that you do not spoil the taste, what you would do is take a teaspoon of the curry and taste it. That should give you your answer. The same approach could be applied elsewhere. Take the example of employee training. By providing the right training to employees, organisations seek to ensure that they do their jobs right when they are deputed at work.
Why should you apply Poka-Yoke in your Business?
Poka-Yoke is both a way of thinking and a tool to secure executional objectivity. It applies to both action and inaction. A few benefits are highlighted below.
If you have any new business growth and expansion ideas in mind, how will you evaluate them? What factors will you consider? Applying Poka Yoke here means you will consider the adverse circumstances and chalk out ways to prevent them. It involves questioning even your assumptions and not just the future course of action.
By applying Poka-Yoke, you could discover better value propositions for your customers. Are you under a false assumption that your customers like your products? Do they have an option? Will they switch to another competitor if they do anything slightly better? Are you capitalising on your current market position? Thinking about these questions and finding the answers will lead you to do better. You are also making a mistake by not doing the right thing.
You may have seen that there are many successful retail businesses in your city but they simply would not make much effort to bifurcate their value propositions to expand revenue streams. By not doing so, they are undervaluing the worth of their business capabilities. They are risking their business survival in the future. And it would be a strategic failure coming from inaction.
However, Poka-Yoke has attained much more popularity because of its utility in business process management and operations management. The benefits are far more direct and obvious in this case i.e. achieving operational precision. But the essence still applies. Poka Yoke is an affirmative decision for the deployment of checks and measures seeking to eliminate the possibilities of mistakes and errors from operational planning.
Take the example of the use of analytics in business. On the surface, it looks like a commonplace standard nowadays. But on the inside, it is Poka-Yoke in action. Say you want to measure the performance of your retail store sales team. The insights you need could come from analytics provided you quantify performance standards and link them to your business processes. When you have the performance numbers derived from analytics, your judgement on employee performance is more accurate and unbiased. Is it not preventing mistakes in PMS?
How SOPs help apply Poka-Yoke (PY)
SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) could be also alternatively defined as a tool for operational focus. It lets you focus on the right. The flip side of it is that you would not be carrying out a process in any other way than defined by the SOPs which is how it is required to be carried out. Let us grab a few SOP-PY points.
Even to achieve the wrong goals, you need to take the right path. We are talking about the importance of the alignment of business operations with business objectives. If you want your retail store to be perceived as one with very good customer support, you will have to formulate the right strategies as well as integrate the same in your operational planning. Say, you decided to maintain that your store is never unstaffed at any time of the working hours. This has ramifications on manpower planning, roster planning, attendance, and leave. Your HR operations must reflect the business goals. For example, in granting leaves, you will have to see who will take the place of that employee. If you do not do so, your store will get understaffed. By defining SOPs for each of these operations, you could ensure that your business operations remain aligned with your business objectives. And when you achieve that, the chances of your business operations deviating from your business objectives are slim to none (achieving Poka Yoke).
Since SOPs map and define process and operational workflows, there remains no plausible reason to deviate from the established procedures. If there are no procedures or they are poorly defined, there is no way to tell what the right way to go is or what constitutes a deviation. Let us see through this with an example.
How do you manage product returns in your retail store? Are there defined procedures for this operation? Or are you relying on your store manager or store employees to handle it as per their discretion? Or have you just given them some broad policies to follow? If there are no established procedures with a strict policy for their adherence, employees may end up making mistakes in the workflows despite their best intentions to achieve the required results. When you have SOPs in place, employees have one reduced burden of thinking about workflows. And because the SOPs are developed with expert deliberations and planning, the scope of making mistakes or errors (Poka-Yoke) in defining the flow of business processes and operations gets, at least theoretically, taken care of.
Result Standards Established
SOPs not just define the workflow procedures but also the process input and output standards. As per SOP philosophy, a process simply would not start if the defined inputs or the trigger is not present. The same is true for the end of a process; if the output standards are not met, it should not be considered a successful process. The same logic is extended if the output of a process is the input of another one. This linkage of process successes makes SOPs a powerful solution to avoid any operational flaw (Poka-Yoke) getting created in the entire ecosystem of business processes of an enterprise. For example, if a leave application is not approved, there is no official sanctioning to be on leave or remain absent from work. If that is so, there arises no question of temporary charge handover.
One of the important elements in the concept of Poka Yoke is the human factor. People are prone to make mistakes and errors in executing tasks which always do not happen because of a lack of skill or expertise. Mistakes do happen also because of confusion, lack of clarity, or even misunderstandings about roles and duties. Done right, SOPs are capable of removing this loophole. SOPs pinpoint accountability and responsibility on roles and positions within an organisation structure. The driver will drive. The accountant will prepare the taxes. The HR manager will be the final leave approving authority. With clarity and precision of accountability-responsibility granted by SOPs, the chances of inadvertent human errors and mistakes get significantly reduced; in turn, helping achieve Poka-Yoke.
Resource Requirements Defined
How many times have you heard in the branches of financial institutions that their servers are down and the requested service cannot be completed at that time? If it is something beyond their control, it could be understood. But if it is an issue internal to the organisation, then there is a problem. Is the IT system down because the required resources were not available? Resources could be skills, assets, or some other service. Resource requirements are identified and established when process SOPs are developed. SOPs are good here because of the detailing element in them. You cannot just map and define a task without also establishing the resources that will be required for the successful execution of that task. Poka-Yoke is grateful for such levels of anticipation and precision in operational planning.
Process Interdependencies Secured
We do not have to cite a large conglomerate to state how common process interdependency is. Even an ice cream (read happiness) seller operating a business on a cart has processes and process interdependency. The owner has to think of the merchandising mix, procure inventory from suppliers, maintain inventory records, manage finances, maintain good mechanical condition of the cart, etc. There is operational interrelatedness in these elements. For example, the products that go past the expiry date must be disposed of. For that, the owner must always keep an eye on the inventory records at some pre-decided interval. This affects the business’s future merchandising mix decisions. In a small business, the entire set of activities may look like one big but still a process, that involves decisional interdependencies between the operational components. By defining the SOPs, these complex activities could be mapped and defined and brought under one organised framework. The idea is to do business right without making mistakes and errors.
Do not think of Poka-Yoke as something external that could be brought in. It is already there. Poka Yoke is a logical and intuitive approach. That way it could be applied to both thinking and action. It is a conscious effort to find out the right way to do something. The big question always is how to apply Poka-Yoke. And in this blog, we studied how SOPs help apply Poka Yoke in business process and operations management.
We are a management consulting brand with expertise in business process management. We develop process and SOP solutions for business and non-business organisations. From planning to implementation, we adhere to planned processes and proven principles in developing our services and solutions. Our service design and delivery are carried out by a team of expert business process consultants. Today, BPX is a name with scaling international footprints and we continue to keep moving in that direction.
Poka Yoke refers to or Poka Yoke means to make something mistake-proof. Some easy and relatable Poka Yoke examples (mistake proofing examples) are:
- Conducting mock fire drills
- Keeping data backup at periodic intervals
- Banks conducting KYC of existing customers once every year
- Deploying QA-QC measures at entry points
Chief Growth Officer
Nikhil is a calm and composed individual who has a master’s degree in international business and finance from the United Kingdom. Nikhil Agarwal has worked with 300+ companies from various sectors, since 2012, to custom-build SOPs and achieve operational excellence. Nikhil & his team have remarkable success stories of helping companies scale 10X with business process standardization.