Poka-yoke and how to mistake-proof your processes

Two professionals using the poka-yoke approach It doesn’t matter how smooth your business’s processes are, human error is inevitable. Although eliminating mistakes completely is impossible, there are ways to reduce them. Poka-yoke is a method of reducing human errors that originally comes from manufacturing in Japan. Now businesses from a range of industries use poka-yoke to reduce mistakes and boost efficiency.

To show you how you can use poka-yoke to mistake-proof your processes, this post will cover:

What is poka-yoke?

Poka-yoke (POH-kah yoh-KEH) is the process of preventing and correcting human errors in your processes through standardization or automation. Originally designed for use in manufacturing, poka-yoke is a Japanese term that means “mistake-proofing.” But poka-yoke has made the leap from manufacturing to Lean management for business teams.

Poka-yoke is a powerful tool used within kaizen — a Japanese business philosophy for continuous improvement. It can be thought of as a continuous approach to reducing human errors that get in the way of your company’s processes.

How to implement and use mistake-proofing

Although there’s no single way to run poka-yoke, there are some basic steps you should follow.

Poka-yoke mistake-proofing steps

  1. Review and chart the process you want to improve. Use mapping tools like flow charts to visualize your processes.
  2. Identify the steps that are prone to human error. For example, processing, setup, or measurement have high rates of manual mistakes.
  3. Find the root cause of the mistake. One way of doing this is by running a 5 Whys analysis. Ask yourself why the error occurs and write down the answer. Then ask why that problem or situation exists. Keep asking “why?” until your answer is the root cause. Despite the name of this method, it might take fewer or more than 5 “whys?” to find the root cause.
  4. Decide on your approach. There are two types of solutions you could use. Shutout poka-yoke is about preventing the mistake from ever happening. This can be done by eliminating a step, replacing it, or simplifying it to make correction easier. Attention poka-yoke focuses on alerting you to errors as they happen.
  5. Implement and test the solution. Start small and don’t skip this step. Run a few tests to see if your solution worked. If it did, start company-wide implementation. If it didn’t, restart the process.

When to use poka-yoke

Poka-yoke is useful in a range of scenarios. Here are some of the most common examples poka-yoke can help you with.

Example of mistake-proofing

While poka-yoke is most commonly found in manufacturing, it’s a valuable methodology for promotional marketing. For example, let’s assume your company is offering a discount to return customers. To ensure the discount code is only used by people who’ve made a purchase before, you use a random alpha-numeric sequence.

The problem is that random codes can be difficult for customers to remember and there could be issues with copying and pasting — especially on mobile devices. Customers might miss applying the promotional discount.

Using poka-yoke, you’ll map out the ideal and other possible paths a customer might take from receiving the email with the discount to making a final purchase. A shutout approach would create a process where the customer can automatically apply the discount to their cart directly from the email. An attention poka-yoke approach would include a reminder when at checkout to use the discount code. In both cases there is a step to reduce human error and make sure customers apply the code to their purchase.

The benefits of poka-yoke

While there are countless benefits of implementing poka-yoke in your organization, these are the three most important:

Benefits of poka-yoke

Getting started with poka-yoke

Simplifying and mistake-proofing your processes with poka-yoke reduces waste and increases productivity. To get started with poka-yoke, review, map, and analyze the process that you need to improve. Look for steps that are prone to human error and use the 5 Whys analysis to find the root cause of the problem.

When you are ready to solve your process errors with poka-yoke, Adobe Workfront is an enterprise work management software that integrates people, data, processes, and technology. By giving you a view of the entire lifecycle of a process from start to finish, you can pinpoint steps where errors can occur and quickly implement mistake-proof solutions.

Take a product tour to learn how Adobe Workfront keeps your teams and business running smoothly in the face of unpredictable challenges.