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Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Yokoten, Learning From Others’ Experience

Knowledge is the single biggest asset of any organization. Successful organizations have realized and maintained knowledge sharing as a key part of their business. The very reason an employee is hired is because of their knowledge and expertise in a given field and how they can use that knowledge in taking the company to the next level. 

There are many benefits for a knowledge sharing organization: 
  • Best practices developed in one part of the organization are accepted in another part 
  • New information is not lost or overlooked because people can translate it to knowledge and pass it on 
  • Knowledge is about knowing both the why and the how, and when you have both you can continuously improve current standards, faster than competitors  
  • Accelerates the process of moving to the next target, continuously improving business processes  
  • Stimulates innovation 
While knowledge plays a crucial role in an organization’s success, not many efforts are put in sharing, managing, and preserving it. At Toyota a key aspect of helping knowledge sharing permeate their business is “Yokoten.” 

Yokoten is a Japanese term that can be roughly translated as "across everywhere." In the Japanese lean system, it is used to mean "best practice sharing." Yokoten, the term Toyota adopted to capture the idea of horizontal transfer of information and knowledge across an organization. Yokoten is more peer-to-peer, with the expectation that people go see for themselves and learn how another area improved or solved a problem.  

Inside of organizations, there is so much untapped knowledge. To combat this, over the past two decades, companies have invested millions of dollars in knowledge management systems. The objective has been to capture the company’s knowledge. Yokoten is a form of knowledge management. It encompasses the methods of documenting and distributing knowledge about what works and what doesn't. As a knowledge management device, Yokoten makes knowledge organizational, not individual. Yokoten is a two-way street, requiring proactive effort from both those acquiring and developing the knowledge and those who could benefit from greater understanding of the requirements for success. 

If others are doing well, people tend to be interested in what they are doing and how they're doing it, so that they, too, can be successful. Sharing best practices is a key part attributing to the success of any organization. Similar to the old saying, "Learn from other's mistakes," it's important to learn from individual experiences, but it's much easier and more effective to learn from the experiences, mistakes and successes of others. 

Much of best practice knowledge is tacit - held in people's heads and not always easy to document. Therefore, most best practice programs combine two key elements: explicit knowledge such as a best practices database (connecting people with information), and methods for sharing tacit knowledge such as communities of practice (connecting people with people). Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. These two approaches are complementary. A database can provide enough information for a potential user of the best practice to find it and decide if it is worth pursuing further. However, the best way of sharing best practices is 'on the job' and so communities and personal contact with others who have used the best practice is key. 

Yokoten is an essential part of long-term success in a lean culture but can also have a big impact on short-term results. Yokoten is a success multiplier. Senior leaders must actively go see, recognize good work and require others to go see. Management must organize presentations of successful kaizen projects and invite colleagues to attend and learn. Team and department leaders must actively engage members in studying kaizen examples, motivating them to start kaizen on their own. Project leaders and continuous improvement professionals must put Yokoten on their checklists and follow up rigorously. 

Regardless of your path on the Lean journey, focusing on the accumulation and transfer of knowledge and learnings as embodied in the concept of Yokoten can have a tremendous impact on the overall results and success of the Lean programs. 

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