Saturday, July 22, 2006

Poka-Yoke : The Japanese way of 'Mistake-Proofing'

When it comes to quality nobody can deny the contributions made by Japanese. Especially in the automobile and electronic industries they literally re-wrote the meaning of ‘Competition’ by innovating ‘Low-cost-high-quality’ products and consistently demonstrating their leadership in those businesses. Today Hondas and Toyotas are the best example of ‘Build-inside-sell-outside’ concept and making General Motors (GM) and Ford Motors to struggle for their business in their own country and I always believe Indian software firms should adapt this concept and build products for global markets. When I was thinking in these lines recently came across the quality ‘Poka Yoke’ invented by Japanese.

Poka Yoke is a quality management concept developed by a Matsushita manufacturing engineer named Shigeo Shingo to prevent human errors from occurring in the production line. Poka yoke (pronounced ‘poh-kah yoh-kay’) comes from two Japanese words – ‘yokeru’ which means ‘to avoid’, and ‘poka’ which means ‘inadvertent errors’. Thus, poka yoke more or less translates to “avoiding inadvertent errors”. Poka yoke is sometimes referred to in English by some people as ‘fool-proofing’. However, this doesn’t sound politically correct if applied to employees, so the English equivalent used by Shingo was ‘error avoidance’. Other variants like ‘mistake proofing’ or ‘fail-safe operation’ have likewise become popular.

The main objective of poke yoke is to achieve zero defects. In fact, it is just one of the many components of Shingo’s Zero Quality Control (ZQC) system, the goal of which is to eliminate defective products. Poka Yoke is more of a concept than a procedure. Thus, its implementation is governed by what people think they can do to prevent errors in their workplace, and not by a set of step-by-step instructions on how they should do their job. Poka yoke is implemented by using simple objects like fixtures, jigs, gadgets, warning devices, paper systems, and the like to prevent people from committing mistakes, even if they try to! These objects, known as poka yoke devices, are usually used to stop the machine and alert the operator if something is about to go wrong.

Five years before one of my friend attended a training in TVS Lucas in Chennai and he gave me a very interesting example. In order to cut the metal parts (Which are used to prepare auto-ancillary parts) the production engineers need to place the metal inside the cutting machine (Don't remember the exact mechanical engineering name for the machine) with both their hands and then switch ON the 'Cutting' button. The main risk is if by mistake the engineer has one hand inside the machine the switches on the machine using another hand the hand inside the machine will get cut completely (Which is very high risk). In order to avoid this they had two 'Cutting' buttons one on the left and another on the right side. Unless both buttons are pressed concurrently the cutting operation will not be started. So the risk of cutting his hand is completely avoided. This is 'Poka-Yoke' demonstrated at its best and we all understand the value of human hands :)

I always feel the Knowledge Industry can learn loads and loads of lessons from the Manufacturing Industry especially from the Japanese. Even though the businesses and the way they operate are totally different we can learn a lot from the Manufacturing Industry (Like Poka-Yoke) and try to implement it in Knowledge Industry. SAYONARA SAYONARA :)

3 comments:

karram said...

Hmm. This is an interesting concept. We need to have something similar in software too.

tapas said...

The real life example is excellent!

Jayakumar Balasubramanian said...

The amount of learning we can have from the automobile industry is simple amazing.Only thing is we need to really put effort and learn it. There is also the concept of 'Compartmentalization' which we can learn and use in s/w industry. Will write a seperate blog on this.