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Yokoten can be described as a process for best practice sharing which is also commonly known as "horizontal deployment" or "sideways development". The etymology of the word describes it all: Yoko means sideways or horizontal and tenkai means development. 


Any Kaizens that are successful are improved and replicated throughout the organization. It works sideways as it means that employees should go see for themselves what Kaizens work in other areas and bring them back for implementation in their own areas. Since the Kaizen will need to be modified for application in other areas, it also solves the purpose of additional learning throughout the organization, making organizations really drive the culture of learning.


An application-oriented question on the topic along with responses can be seen below. The best answer was provided by R Rajesh on 25th November 2018. 


Also review the answer provided by Mr Venugopal R, Benchmark Six Sigma's in-house expert


Q. 112  What is Yokoten? Give examples of Yokoten from different sectors. How lack of Yokoten is restricting Continuous Improvement in many companies?  



Note for website visitors - Two questions are asked every week on this platform. One on Tuesday and the other on Friday.


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In Japanese, it is called "Across Every where". What does it mean in this context ? Sharing best practices horizontally across an organisation. It also talks about the learning of failures across organisation. The objective is to share the learnings/continuous improvement ideas. For instance, staffs in one department might be asked to see and observe the improvements made in another department.


Let us see some examples from various sectors:

IT Sector:
In an IT organisation,  one project team used a Continuous Integration server and displayed reports on Code Coverage and Coding Standards compliance, on a giant monitor. It was transparent for the entire team and management. Developers were quick to spot their mistakes and made corrections. This improved the quality of the system with minimal defects resulting in a satisfied customer. This was highlighted as a major success in that project's portfolio and the Group Leader of the particular customer unit/relationship (where the project belongs to) , requested other teams to see and observe the changes made so that it could be replicated across the rest of the customer unit/relationship. The Other teams observed the changes and replicated this successfully.


Manufacturing Sector:
In a manufacturing company, a team(let us call it T1)  did a Six Sigma DMAIC project to reduce cycle time for the processing of its product. Another team from different department saw the success stories of T1 through a circulated success story presentation and met T1 manager and SMEs, in person, to understand more about the improvements made in T1's processes.


Retail Sector: A major Retailer had three outlets in a big city. Outlet in one location (Location A) was having its products sold routinely and growing in size everyday and the other two outlets (in different locations) were not doing business that well. Managers of Location A decided to share the know-how about improving the business with the managers of the other 2 outlets.The managers in these 2 outlets were also keen to know how location A outlet is doing well. With Effective feedback and suggestions (as a survey), obtained from social media, mobile phones, customers's interests/tastes were captured by the outlet (in location A). 


What damage can be done due to lack of yokoten in an Organisation?

In my opinion, following could be some of the key points:

1. Innovative Ideas/improvements will cease to flow through the organisation.
2. Lessons learnt from failures will not be passed across the organisation.
3. Process cycle time reduction, Productivity Efficiency, Quality Efficiency may not be achieved across the organisation as  per its expected standards, thereby resulting in either not meeting customer standards or not able to achieve the  benchmark standards(if the organisation is especially a leader in a given sector).
4. Potential loss of business due to unsatisfied customers, in some cases.    


Let us see how lack of Yokoten is restricting Continuous Improvement in many companies:
1. A retailer had few outlets in a city. One outlet had always so much crowd and it had all kinds of products. But still waiting time for paying the products was quick. The queuing system to Point of Sale(POS) was quick with multiple layers and classified/ categorised in terms of senior citizens/ Rest.Parents with Toddlers were given preferential treatment. These kind of queuing did wonders to the delivery speed in that outlet.  But unfortunately the other outlets did not follow suit of this as mgmt failed to stress this importance to the other outlets as they could not bring the shift in cultural mindset among the staffs of the outlets as they had been operating in a different way.   


2. In an IT company, an Agile Scrum team had developed a software product using Test Driven Development (TDD) (In TDD, Test cases are written first, before code is developed. This ensures every unit of functionality is addressed.  Normal approach is to code first and then test.There is a chance that we may miss some functionalities to be unit tested in this approach. So TDD is better than this approach,  in this aspect.). The team also did Unit Testing automation. The team was able to successfully deliver a quality product, of incremental value[every agile sprint , you are bound to deliver some stories(requirements) - which keeps updating your product features/functionalities]. But this team was working on a Non-disclosure agreement based project. So the team had its own reservations in sharing the know-how on the processes done. The team should have been worried about the data and not on the processes which are industry standards. But that was not the case.  The team members themselves had done this for the first time. Therefore, they could not share how they did the processes without the actual data. The portfolio leads were skeptic about the sharing of processes (inspite of having people who can showcase to the other teams). This deprived some teams who projects got transformed to Agile, as their customers were moving towards Agile.  Those teams wanted badly to see how TDD and Automation (Unit Testing) were done. But the opportunity did not happen.  


Bringing positive change is a cultural mindset. Effectiveness of solution is product(read combination) of Quality of the solution and Acceptance of the solution. Its the acceptance factor that decides the fate of the solution(in this context innovations/improvement ideas/learning the lessons as what not to be done). Whichever companies(employees in those companies) refute to get changed/adhere to the solution provided/suggested (within their companies) fail to grow as an organisation. This will be the case for any industry. As i stated above in one of the earlier paragraphs, you can see what effect(damage), lack of yokoten can bring to Organisation. Therefore, i  feel, that yokoten should be part and parcel of an organisation's culture.  

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Reinventing the wheel can be an arduous task. It is basic common sense that we should try not to duplicate efforts, but build upon wisdom that already prevails. The distinctiveness with the Japanese companies is that they have demonstrated the art of picking up on an invention that already exists and take it to an unimaginable dimension.

The transformation of the auto industry by Japanese 1980-90 period has awakened the US auto giants to revise their own standards on Automobiles. Similar is the case with many other products that the world has seen.


It would not be out of place to mention the pioneering work by Indian Statistical Institute on Statistical Design of Experiments - many of those approaches have been practically applied on what came out as the very popularly accepted Taguchi methods.


Indeed, a legacy has been left by Japanese in the ability to build and excel upon in many areas, be it Product, Process or Practices.


Now let us see the Yokoten practice as applied within an organization. Yokoten, as many of you have figured out is commonly referred as lateral sharing of learning across organization. In many or our organizations, we continue to have pockets of good work going on, but with stealth publicity. People who have been in organization for long tenure would have seen the same or similar continuous improvement projects being repeated over time. We often talk about ‘sharing of best practices’, but from a yokoten point of view, shouldn’t we rather say “Building upon best practices”.


In order to propagate the yokoten practices better in organizations, we need to consider multiple factors. Let’s discuss one such factor here.


Usually when an improvement project is completed, there is a requirement to get the team to come out with ‘opportunities for replication’ and this gets presented and many a time, nothing much emerges out of it. The impression prevails that replication is a relatively simpler process and mostly, even if someone takes up sincerely, it is perceived as a low recognition effort. Instead, “building upon best practices” can be viewed as a creative ability and effort that carries equal importance, or maybe more in some cases. However the credit for the original effort will not diminish at all.


Thomas Edison is still remembered as the inventor of the bulb, though in today’s world the bulb, from its original form has undergone significant transformations!

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