Thursday, 18 June 2015

Yokoten - knowledge sharing in Toyota

Toyota is a world class knowledge-based organisation with its own unique Toyota flavour of product-focused Knowledge Management. Together with the local focus on knowledge development (Kaizen) and knowledge documentation (A3) and the behaviours of Hansei we can add the knowledge sharing practice of Yokoten.

Workers exchanging knowledge (genchi gembutsu) 

Yokoten literally translates as "across everywhere" and means the horizontal sharing of knowledge and experience and the horizontal deployment of practice improvements.  It is a process which avoids the development of pockets of excellence within and organisation, and results in the spreading of knowledge across the whole organisation.  The Ford Best Practice Replication system is a version of Yokoten, though Yokoten refers to the sharing of all knowledge rather than best practices per se.

There are several important aspects to Yokoten

  • The first is its horizontal nature. Knowledge sharing is peer to peer.  It’s not a vertical (top-down) requirement to copy, and it is not a case of the knowledge passing upwards in the organisation to be spread back downwards. It is truly peer-to-peer. The role of the managers is to make people aware of the existence of knowledge that should be shared and learned from. 
  • Secondly, as in the Ford example, the idea is that people to not blindly copy; they review the knowledge of others, learn from it, and add their own wisdom and context to the knowledge they gained.
  • A key point to this is that it is not just the result that is shared, but the process that led to the result.   It is not enough to copy a successful practice; Toyota realise you must also copy (or learn from) the thinking that resulted in the successful practice.
  • It is the responsibility of the team that generated the knowledge to identify others who could possibly benefit, and the responsibility of the others to make an effort to learn. They should not simply dismiss ideas that do not seem at first pass to be relevant. 
  • The expectation is that people should make an effort to go and see the idea or process improvement in practice first hand (this is called genchi gembutsu). This is what we call a learning visit, which can be as simple as a half hour trip to the other side of the factory, or a week long visit to the other side of the world. 

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