“How do we deploy this improvement to other areas in the company?” is a very common question out there. A fair number of formal improvement structures include a final step of “standardize” and imply the improvement is laterally copied or deployed into other, similar, situations.
Yet this seems to fly in the face of the idea that the work groups are in the best position to improve their own processes.
I believe this becomes much less of a paradox if we understand a core concept of improvement: We are using the scientific method.
How I Think Science Works
In science, there is no central authority deciding which ideas are good and worth including into some kind of standard documentation. Rather, we have the concept of peer review and scientific consensus.
Someone makes what she believes is a discovery. She publishes not only the discovery itself, but also the theoretical base and the experimental method and evidence.
Other scientists attempt to replicate the results. Those attempts to replicate are often expanded or extended in order to understand more.
As pieces of the puzzle come together, others might have what seems to be an isolated piece of knowledge. But as other pieces come into place around them, perhaps they can see where their contributions and their expertise might fit in to add yet another piece or fill in a gap.
If the results cannot be replicated at all, the discovery is called into serious question.
Thus, science is a self-organized collaborative effort rather than a centrally managed process. All of this works because there is a free and open exchange among scientists.
It doesn’t work if everyone is working in isolation… even if they have the same information, because they cannot key in on the insights of others.
What we have is a continuous chatter of scientists who are “thinking out loud” others are hearing them, and ideas are kicked back and forth until there is a measure of stability.
This stability lasts until someone discovers something that doesn’t fit the model, and the cycle starts again.
How I Think Most Companies Try To Work
On the other hand, what a lot of people in the continuous improvement world seem to try to do is this:
Somebody has a good idea and “proves it out.”
We continue to see “standardization” as something that is static and audited into place. (That trick never works.)
What About yokoten. Doesn’t that mean “lateral deployment” or “standardize?”
According to my Japanese speaking friends (thanks Jon and Zane), well, yes, sort of. When these Japanese jargon terms take on a meaning in our English-speaking vernacular, I like to go back to the source and really understand the intent.
In daily usage, yokoten has pretty much the same meaning [as it does in kaizen] just a bit more mundane scope…along the lines of sharing a lesson learned.
Yokogawa ni tenkai suru (literally: to transmit/develop/convey sideways) is the longer expression of which Yokoten is the abbreviation.
Yoko means “side; sideways; lateral. Ten is just the first half of “tenkai” to develop or transmit. Yokotenkai..
If you take a good look at the Toyota internal context, it is much more than just telling someone to follow the new standard. It is much more like science.
How the Scientific Approach Would Work
A work team has a great idea. They try it out experimentally. Now, rather than trying to enforce standardization, the organization publishes what has been learned: How the threshold of knowledge about the process, about a tricky quality problem, whatever, has been extended.
We used to know ‘x’, now we know x+y.
They also publish how that knowledge was gained. Here are the experiments we ran, the conditions, and what we learned at each step.
Another team can now take that baseline of knowledge and use it to (1) validate via experimentation if their conditions are similar. Rather than blindly applying a procedure, they are repeating the experiment to validate the original data and increase their own understanding.
And (2) to apply that knowledge as a higher platform from which to extend their own.
But Sometimes there is just a good idea.
I am not advocating running experiments to validate that “the wheel” is a workable concept. We know that.
Likewise, if an improvement is something like a clever mistake proofing device or jig (or something along those lines), of course you make more of them and distribute them.
On the other hand, there might be a process that the new mistake-proofing fixture won’t work for. But… if they applied the method used to create it, they might come up with something that works for them, or something that works better.
“That works but…” is a launching point to eliminate the next obstacle, and pass the information around again.
oh… and this is how rocket science is done.
Edit to add:
I believe Brian’s comment, and my response, are a valid extension of this post, so be sure to read the comments to get “the rest of the story.” (and add your own!)