Yokoten Across the World

3/6/2008
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Recently in the same city I visited two facilities of a company trying to embrace lean thinking. At the first I found high levels of technical knowledge, a clear transformation plan involving a change in management behavior, and a high level of energy. At the second I found some technical knowledge but no management insights about needed changes in behavior and no effective transformation plan. This was despite both facilities having listed "lean transformation" as their top priority for the year.

This was a clear case of a lack of yokoten, the term Toyota uses for the horizontal transfer of information and knowledge across an organization. The facility making progress was somehow not sharing its learning with the other facility despite reporting to the same higher-level management and being only a few miles away. And the lagging facility was somehow unaware of how to learn.

The trick to yokoten is to be sure that someone is responsible for accumulating the knowledge where it has been developed.  (The A3 reports prepared for lean implementation can be an excellent resource.) In addition, the person responsible for accumulating the knowledge must be available to help share it with others in the organization with a need. At the same time, managers elsewhere in the organization must understand that most learning occurs horizontally (whatever those at the top of the organization may think) and that they need to "go see" and "ask why". Direct observation on the gemba is always the best way to learn.

From the beginning I have wanted LEI to be a force for yokoten. The difference is that we transfer knowledge between organizations. To do this we have been writing down lean knowledge and sharing it through publications, workshops, seminars, conferences, and demonstration projects. But as a practical matter we at LEI were only able to do this effectively in the US. I soon realized that we would need to replicate LEI's efforts in every country where people wanted to learn.

Fortunately, over the past ten years lean leaders have emerged in 13 addditional countries to pursue global yokoten and there are now lean institutes in Brazil, Mexico, Spain, France, the Netherlands, the UK, Denmark, Germany, Poland, India, China, Turkey, and Australia. In addition, leaders from many additional countries are now expressing an interest in creating institutes.

This explosion of interest in lean thinking was becoming an overwhelming burden for me and it was necessary to create a new means of horizontal coordination and knowledge sharing. This is the non-profit Lean Global Network whose new website www.leanglobal.org goes live today.

Something virtual like the web can never be an adequate substitute for going to the gemba. And the lean institutes, while necessary, can never be a sufficient learning mechanism either. But managers need help on learning what they need to learn and additional help to find gemba in their home country or in other countries where they can go see and ask why. Providing this guidance is the priority of the 14 affiliate organizations in the Lean Global Network. I hope you will visit www.leanglobal.org today to explore the resources available as we pursue global yokoten together.

Best regards,
Jim

James Womack
Founder and Chairman
Lean Enterprise Institute Feel free to forward this message to suppliers, customers, or colleagues who are implementing lean - or should be.

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