Copy + Kaizen = Yokoten

Here’s my understanding of one of the winning behaviors of Toyota, namely copying and improving on kaizen ideas that work. We’ll call this yokoten since it’s more precise than “copy” or “horizontal deployment” or “sideways expansion”.
It’s not a vertical (top-down) requirement to copy as Intel might deploy it in their “copy exactly” model. It’s not a “best practices” or benchmarking approach per se. Yokoten is horizonal, or more peer-to-peer, with the expectation that people go see for themselves and learn how another area did kaizen. In yokoten at Toyota there is an expectation that copying a good idea will be followed by some added kaizen to that idea.
One thing that we often hear is that communication and exchange of accurate information horizontally in an organization is important. These would be cross-functional exchanges of information or across business units and value streams that may not have formal channels of communication.
Rather than waiting for the kaizen information to go up the chain of command where it can be sent back down to another area to copy or learn from, as I understand it Toyota people are encouraged to go see for themselves, and return to their own area to add their own wisdom and ideas to the knowledge they gained.
The role of the senior managers is to make people aware of the existence of these good kaizen examples so that they can go see for themselves, gain the knowledge and improve upon it further. Simply telling subordinates to copy it may be kaizen of a sort but it would not serve the second important aspect of the Toyota Production System, the respect for and development of people.


  1. Barry

    October 5, 2006 - 4:20 pm

    I believe your last two postings have highlighted a significant gap in understanding that exists concerning what Toyota has done and what Onosan meant when he said standardization.
    There is a lot of confusion about what standardized work means and how Toyota uses standardization to its advantage. I feel that stagnant Standardization is one of the problems of some of the ISO systems. Say what you do and do what you say just doesn’t provide for the kind of rapid and continuous improvement expected by Toyota. Perhaps that’s why they haven’t embraced these ISO based quality systems ?
    Maybe you should provide more information on this topic.

  2. Troy thompson

    March 17, 2007 - 2:23 pm

    Barry makes a good point. I work in a plant that has embraced ISO and used it to solve many issues of communication and misunderstanding. We are in the process of bringing in a Toyota Line to build Camry’s and they want us to discard the ISO practices because Toyota finds it too stifling and think it prevents creativity and continuous improvement. After seeing it in action however we are trying to meet somewhere in the middle. To their credit they were quick to admit that too much freedom and anarchy does lead to some problems that can be solved by everyone knowing exactly which standard work to use and not missing someone when updating information.