Yokoten: From In Theory to Implanted

Most of the Japanese terms that have arrived in the American business world have their roots in lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturing sprouted up out of Toyota’s re-tooling of it’s operations some decades ago and continues to be adopted by more and more companies today. “Yokoten” is no different. A lean term meaning “horizontal deployment,” Yokoten is all about level communication across the scope of a business or even an entire supply chain.

In Depth

In more detail, Yokoten is all about making sure communication happens quickly and evenly. To illustrate, let’s say that you already have some lean principles in place and you are monitoring work operations in terms of team performance. Now let’s say you notice some teams or areas of your operation consistently shining and others that are consistently falling behind. This is a natural occurrence in many industries, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it should just be accepted at face value. In such a situation, Yokoten seeks to take the things that are working well for that one sector and share them with other teams to strengthen their own performances. Some lean monitoring processes promote a competitive environment in their continual quest for improvement and efficiency. However, it is important for everyone involved to remember that production as a whole is a unit and that information should be shared.

In Practice

So let’s say you have a situation like the one described above. Your first problem, then, is who do you task with re-training or spreading knowledge to other teams or areas of production. The obvious answer might be to go straight to the source and ask those with exceptional performance to work with the others. The problem here is two-fold. For the first one, picture a teacher that picks out one student to go around and show all of the other students how they’ve been drawing a cat because the other students’

drawings of cats aren’t as good. No kid in that class wants to listen to the teacher’s pet explain how they can draw more like him or herself. While we mature a lot as we grow older, some things never change and some workers may be put off by getting corrective

instruction from their peers. The second problem is that pulling a team or part of a team away from their task can make that team less effective as their manpower slips or they have to dedicate work hours elsewhere; suddenly your dream team isn’t heads and shoulders above the rest after all. The best choice in most cases is to bring in a teaching coach or manager that can go around to teams spreading continuous improvement ideas.


The great thing about Yokoten is that, like most lean principles, it becomes second nature after a time and things begin to flow more and more smoothly until positions like a “teaching coach” are working seamlessly in the background. After a time, workers may even begin to self-correct more often in noticing mistakes or deficiencies and anticipating that, since they’ll inevitably be addressed, they might as well be proactive about correcting themselves.


Updated Dec 27 2013 by Ben Geck

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