Thursday, 13 August 2020

Yokoten - the Japanese approach to best practice sharing

How do Japanese organisations approach best pratice sharing? Let's look at Yokoten

Workers exchanging knowledge (genchi gembutsu) 

Japan, exemplified by Toyota, has developed its own flavour of Knowledge Management.  Together with a local focus on knowledge development (Kaizen), knowledge documentation (A3) and the behaviours of Hansei we can add the knowledge sharing practice of Yokoten.

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. 
  • Yokoten is not just about sharing success, it involves sharing failures too, so that others can learn from them.
  • 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. 
You can find a good western summary of Yokoten in this blog post by Jon Miller. In his post, Jon mentions the cultural background needed to enable Yokoten.

There is another Japanese phrase which is often associated with building a yokoten culture. It is kaze toushi which literally means “ventilation” or “wind blowing through” but refers to the openness or ease of communication within an organization. When this ventilation or information flow is poor, yokoten does not happen.

Remember Yokoten and Kaze Toushi in your KM programs, and ensure the wind of fresh knowledge and new ideas blows horizontally through your organisation.

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