One of key concepts in Toyota Production System with respect to Quality (other than Jidoka/Autonomation) is Poka-Yoke (ポカヨケ), or Error Proofing. “Yokeru” in Japanese means “to avoid”. “Poka” means “error” or “blunder”. The story behind Poka-Yoke has an underlying theme of respect for people.
Baka to Poka:
The concept of Poka-Yoke was made famous by Shigeo Shingo, perhaps one of the best Industrial Engineers. He coined it as “Baka-Yoke”. “Baka” in Japanese means “idiot” or “fool”. Thus, Baka-Yoke means “fool proof”.
Around 1963, Arakawa Auto Body adopted a fool proofing device as part of a Baka-Yoke program. This device prevented seat parts from being spot welded backwards. The story goes that one of the part–time workers started crying when the supervisor explained about the fool-proofing device because the workers were sometimes mixing up left and right handed parts.
“Have I really been such a fool”, she asked. She ended up staying home that day. The supervisor had to go to her home to convince her to come back by explaining that she is not a fool. The device was being used because anybody can make inadvertent mistakes.
Shingo was told this story, and after some thought he changed the name to “Poka-Yoke”. Thus choosing a term that communicates more respect for the worker.
Poka-Yoke and Respect for People (RFP):
The story above shows that Shingo was being respectful and the new name of Poka-Yoke is certainly more meaningful since it does not put any blame on the employee. I have heard this story being used to explain Respect for People. But more than the story, I feel that the concept of Poka-Yoke is a part of Respect for People. You may have heard that things go wrong sometimes, especially when the operator is doing a highly repetitive activity. The big red book of Poka-Yoke by Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun states the following;
The idea behind Poka-Yoke is to respect the intelligence of the workers. By taking over repetitive tasks or actions that depend on vigilance or memory, Poka-Yoke can free a worker’s time and mind to pursue more creative and value-adding activities.
Extrinsic and Intrinsic Respect for People:
The more I read about TPS and Respect for People, I am coming to view Respect for People as Extrinsic and Intrinsic RFPs.
The Extrinsic RFP is superficial in nature. This is the basic respect you give to your fellow human beings. This is you being nice to people, the basic manners!
The Intrinsic RFP is the meat and potatoes or the true essence of Respect for People. As a leader in your organization you ensure that the work performed by an employee is value added. As the leader of your organization, it should be your job to develop your employees and ensure that they remain valuable assets. Toyota says that they believe in making people before making cars. Respect for people means that the organization is providing an environment where the employees are doing only value added activities.
How does one increase the worth of an employee? You can increase their worth by developing the employee to understand the value in his work. You can increase the worth by training him to look for gaps between the ideal state and current state. By understanding this gap, you can further develop him to take countermeasures and corrective actions to move closer to the ideal state. Ideally, the employee would now be able to train the employees underneath him. The employee is now at a stage to be making decisions and implementing the improvements on his own. In other words, he is empowered.
You might wonder whether Respect for People is value added. The traditional notion of value added activity is that the activity is something that the customer is willing to pay for. My view is that by creating the equation making things is making people, Toyota has transformed people development as a value added activity.
Chewbacca’s Connection to Baka:
I came across an article that suggested that maybe George Lucas created the name Chewbacca from the Japanese phrase “Chū baka” which means “Medium Stupid/Fool” or “Average Idiot”. There is of course no conclusive evidence for this. George has admitted that he was influenced by Japanese culture and movies while making Star Wars. I thought this was a nice story with relation to Poka-Yoke and Respect for People. Let Chewbacca remind you the need for Poka-Yoke as opposed to Baka-Yoke, and Respect for People.
Always keep on learning…
Image Credit – Sir Chewbacca (mcfeezy )
In case you missed it, my last post was “Would Ohno Change the term ‘Lean’”.