Last month's article, Continuous Improvement (Kaizen) for Enhancing Performance to Ensure ROI Retention, is a natural lead-in to Poka-Yoke. In lean terminology, roughly translated from Japanese, Poka-Yoke means to mistake-proof the process. A more accurate translation could be "inadvertent error prevention." In a nutshell, one tries to make any process bulletproof so that inadvertent errors are not created because the system process is simplified and does not allow for mistakes (or is "idiot-proof"). One can understand that much of the manufacturing process becomes a higher degree of mistake-proofing through automation, but what about the rest of the project processing? What about from the time the customer initiates the communication until invoicing? Most of the time spent processing any project languishes in the communication process.

The best way I can explain this essential lean manufacturing tool is to give four examples of what your company should prioritize for implementation. Start 2024 with an enhancement to your company's project communications, no matter which division or department, with these four must-have features to reduce errors and simplify the time for task completion. By implementing these four suggestions, your company will have:

  • Far Less Labor
  • Far Less Errors

Example #1 — Link all emails directly to each project from every department!
Everyone should be able to with one click, create an automated searchable electronic threaded trail for every project's relevant email, regardless of project status or department in the company—no more lost emails on a salesperson's cellphone.

Along with the emails, link everything, such as notes, documents, and schedules, connected to each project.

Example #2 — Create an online project management program that works on cellphones and desktops and is not unique to any particular division, such as only the wood truss division!
Think about your current practices for any order or quote in your company. Does your company only process one type of product, such as wood trusses, or does it offer many different products and services to any customer? The more departments and personnel that are involved, the more likely it is that an error will occur. Often, the only response is that "more training" is often needed to prevent reoccurring errors. If an error occurs, one should always review the process first, not the people. Are people following a well-defined process, and are the tools they use for this process error-proof? If not, why not?

Example #3 — Auto-link information in the company accounting system to the project management application.
Inputting the same data into multiple programs is a complete waste of time and is prone to errors. Your programs should sync automatically without a user inputting the same data again, which is time-consuming and error-prone.

On another side note, I have found the standard practice of so many companies not knowing their actual profits every week is genuinely astounding. There is no excuse for companies not to know their true COGS daily without using estimated cost numbers so they have up-to-date knowledge of their true EBITA. TDC cannot emphasize enough the need to use actual costs and not estimated numbers.

Example #4 — Automated alerts and notifications of pending and past due deadlines.
Schedules and other time-sensitive tasks should automatically notify relevant personnel of delayed or past-due assigned tasks. All projects require appropriately estimated work hours to complete them on time. Why not have an application reminding and alerting everyone of the tasks needed for completion?

Conclusion and Solution — These four examples of Poka-Yoke mistake-proofing would save your company from costly mistakes and needless labor.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, there are fully-customizable apps that are used within our industry that is affordable ERP/MRP platforms that can be plugged into existing accounting and specialized department software to act as a communication hub between different departments. There are apps available that will fulfill these critical needs that do not require in-house development. When your company is ready to take the next step, look outside the box your group has found itself constrained in.