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There’s much we can learn from the ways of the Japanese, especially in the workplace. One of which is jidoka or loosely translated as “automation with a human touch”. It is one of the pillars of the Toyota Production System and is practiced extensively in various industries including manufacturing, retail, food and beverage, and software development. 

What exactly is the jidoka principle and how can you use it to boost your team’s productivity?

What is the Jidoka Principle?

The term jidoka was modified by Toyota to give a new meaning to the word which blends machine automation and human intelligence. Jidoka and Just-in-Time (JIT) are the main pillars of the Toyota Production System. While JIT focuses on workflow optimization by removing waste and improving cycle times, jidoka focuses on improving product and service quality in every step of the workflow. Working together, these two concepts empowers businesses and teams in ensuring processes are working at peak efficiency.

Applying the jidoka principle allows teams to embed quality within the process and ensure that defects and errors don’t fall through the cracks. Identifying defects early and correcting them lessens the risks and costs associated with them.

The jidoka principle makes use of automation or machines to automatically detect errors and stop the process. This prevents defects from flowing downstream to other steps in the process. When the defect has been flagged and the process stopped, then the team steps in to investigate and remove the root cause of the problem. This process is called autonomation

What’s the Difference Between Automation and Autonomation?

Automation is focused on using machines, systems, and technology to perform repeatable tasks without human intervention. When doing automation projects, the objectives will include cost-efficiency, accuracy, and precision. 

Autonomation, on the other hand, focuses on automatic detection of process and machine failures, defects, and errors. An important component in autonomation is in signaling process owners to investigate and resolve the issues. 

When we think about it, autonomation and automation work hand-in-hand. When using machines to perform repetitive tasks, we can inject autonomation principles to proactively address problems when they arise. This is the ultimate goal of the jidoka principle.

How to Apply Jidoka to Boost Your Productivity

The jidoka principle can be applied to any industry, process, or team. The key concept is in establishing mechanisms to pinpoint defects and errors as soon as they happen. 

The jidoka principle has four steps. Learn how to apply these steps to your process and improve your productivity and process efficiency.

Jidoka Process
  • Discover an abnormality – Process abnormalities are defects, errors, and machine failures. In a manufacturing setup, teams would use an andon to visually alert them of any abnormalities as they occur. 
  • Stop the process – Once an abnormality is reported, the process should cease to operate. This will prevent more defects from being experienced. 
  • Fix the immediate problem The process team, leader, or supervisor will then investigate what happened and aim to find the root cause of it. The objective is to resume production as soon as possible. 
  • Remove the root cause – The root cause of the problem is resolved and the workflow is improved to prevent the recurrence of the problem. 

You can apply these steps and adopt it to your production or process setting. Consider what tools you are using and how you can embed error-detection or poka yoke in them. 

In software development for example, CI/CD systems can trace errors throughout the pipeline and proactively flag them. If you are mainly using a manual process, for example in an office setup, you can still apply the same concept and discuss as a team on how you would proactively raise issues and resolve them. 

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Enhanced Productivity with the Jidoka Principle

A proactive approach to error-detection and resolution improves productivity. It prevents rework, helps lessen costs due to defects, and empowers the team to continuously improve their processes and systems to ensure quality is delivered in every step. The jidoka principle proves to be an invaluable tool for improving efficiency at work. You can produce better quality products and services with a simple 4-step process. On top of that, your teams will be more focused on how to improve their work. You can then use Kanban to organize your process improvement initiatives and effectively stay on top of them. 

The jidoka principle is just one of the many pillars of the Toyota Production System that we can learn much from. Many businesses can benefit from applying these simple yet effective concepts especially when it comes to enhancing productivity and quality. Try them today and see for yourself.

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About the Author: Lena Boiser

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Lena Boiser is an Agile enthusiast. Starting off her career as a Software Business Analyst in 2010, she eventually performed other roles including Project Manager and IT Business Manager. When she was immersed in Agile methodologies in 2014, Lena found her way through honing her craft and eventually became a Certified Scrum Product Owner. In 2017, after 7 years of working in the corporate world, Lena started her own remote consulting practice. Today, she provides project management and Scrum Product Ownership services to various businesses including software development companies, e-Commerce business owners, and small to medium sized companies. She believes that even teams working remotely can harness the benefits of Agile in order to deliver results for their companies. In her free time she likes to write. One day she could be writing about Agile, the next she could be writing anything about fashion or travel.

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