It’s always fun to encounter news items that are lean in essence without calling themselves so. Consider the apocryphal story about the band Van Halen’s demand that all backstage snacks contain bowls of M&Ms with the brown ones removed. As we read here and here, and as David Lee Roth explains here, it turns out that the band made this request as a form of error-proofing — a lean practice commonly known today as pokayoke. To quote Spinal Tap, there really is such a fine line between stupid… and clever.
Speaking of “stupid,” our fearless leader at LEI has shared some intriguing background on the history of pokayoke — which was originally titled bakayoke. “Baka” is a Japanese phrase that can loosely be translated as dumb-ass.
According to John Shook:
“As for pokayoke and bakayoke, yes, the term was originally bakayoke. Baka means stupid or dumb-ass and yoke means something like ‘prevention’, so ‘foolproof’. The switch to pokayoke was one of the most amazing things I witnessed in Japan. Toyota and the entire Japanese industry switched almost overnight from a word that was as common as you can imagine (like ‘foolproof’) to a new term (pokayoke or mistake-proof) that sounded contrived and didn't roll of the tongue. The decision was made because it was decided that baka was offensive… The fact that it could be executed so completely and so quickly was astonishing. This was in the late 80s, so Toyota materials from the early to mid-80s say bakayoke, and the NUMMI materials, from the early 80s, say bakayoke. But the Kentucky materials just a few years later say pokayoke. I have a late 80s reprinting of a 1975 Japanese language TPS training manual. Someone had gone through the entire printed original with white-out and replaced each instance of the typed ‘ba’ with a hand-written ‘po’.
“As to the question of whether the Van Halen M&Ms are an example of pokayoke? Pokayoke means coming up with a mechanism that prevents a human from making a human error.”
Is this lean by design? No. Does it illustrate the power of a key lean tool? Yes. Are these questions annoying? Perhaps. What do you think? Is this a good example of pokayoke? What examples come to mind for you? Where do you see lean thinking showing up in surprising places?