Yokoten is a Japanese term from lean manufacturing practices used by the Toyota Production System. Translated, it means the sharing of best practices widely across the organization.
Yokoten translates to “best practice sharing” and is also known by the term “horizontal deployment”. It is an established culture of knowledge sharing that flows between siloed departments or even separate factories.
Some manufacturing companies also practice yokoten between themselves and a sister company within a similar industry.
At first glance, it seems like yokoten is the same thing as standardization, or SOPs. After all, yokoten refers to implementing best practices across a wide variety of operations within a manufacturing business.
However, this is misleading. Yokoten is different from standardization because it is not simply applying the same rules using the same language and specifications to different work processes.
The essence of yokoten is in the sharing. So when process efficiencies or continuous improvement initiatives are discovered and shared, different teams are supposed to take what works and implement those best practices in the way that works for their own workflows.
Standardization is more about detailed replication, whether in assembly or written SOP instructions. Yokoten is about adapting best practices horizontally across silos.
Yokoten is perhaps the most simple of lean manufacturing concepts while also being the most difficult to implement. This is because there is often not enough upper management buy-in for focusing on knowledge-sharing that can’t be easily credited to one departmental initiative.
That being said, it is extremely beneficial to establish yokoten for continuous improvement.
Here are some ways to bring yokoten into your management operations:
The best way to encourage creative problem-solving in approving process improvement is to schedule frequent Gemba walks. This is because going to the site where production actually happens makes workers ever more aware of new possibilities and pain points.
An example benefit from doing a Gemba walk is seeing a potential defect or error and its solution, and then considering if that same defect will occur in other departments or workflows. This gives you a chance to preemptively work out a solution.
Isolated teams can make great use of kanban boards as communication hubs. These kanban boards can be confusing for others outside of immediate team members to understand, however.
Foster open communication throughout your organization by setting up open forums, frequent briefs or updates, and potential cross-departmental coaching opportunities.
Some departments just by nature won’t have the same problems pop up as others – for example, a marketing team won’t be regularly interacting with final assembly work instructions on the shop floor. However, best practices can be spread using other lean tools such as the PDCA cycle. Knowledge gained from the assembly floor can influence marketing campaigns by translating insights into a PDCA-style format for future documentation.
Using digital platforms for your documentation is the quickest and most reliable way to start a culture of yokoten, or best practice sharing. This is because all policies, SOPs, and work instructions can be accessed simultaneously and instantaneously by many different actors within the business regardless of their physical location.
Digital data and procedures take care of the standardization so that you can focus on yokoten.