After a recent post, several people asked about the term poka-yoke. Besides being a ridiculously fun word to say, it refers to mechanisms designed to prevent mistakes.  

To summarize Wikipedia:

Poka-yoke is a Japanese term that means "mistake-proofing". A poka-yoke is any mechanism in a process that helps a user avoid (yokeru) mistakes (poka). Its purpose is to eliminate defects by preventing, correcting, or drawing attention to human errors as they occur. The concept was formalized, and the term adopted, by Shigeo Shingo as part of the Toyota Production System. It was originally described as baka-yoke, but as this means "fool-proofing" (or "idiot-proofing") the name was changed to the milder poka-yoke.

I referenced the term when discussing cloud software used in another small business. While the software was fairly flexible, the appointment scheduling app was not a custom coded solution. This meant it was necessary to use creativity to address certain business requirements. 

A percentage of customers were having issues in the online registration process. Due to software limitations, the only option was to employ obvious visual signals and hope for the best! 

Here’s an example:

Business Rule: When a customer books a swim lesson they must assign a swimmer to the lesson (i.e. Will Susie or Johnny show up for the lesson?).

Customer Mistake: Some parents neglected to add swimmer information when initially creating an account (the software would not allow us to make swimmer info required). Then further into the registration process, when they were asked who would attend a lesson, there was no way to add the needed swimmer information. Not good. 

Simple Poka-Yoke: Using a simple visual signal on the initial registration screen, we forced customers to stop and take notice. The solution was not ideal, but the mistake was eliminated for the rest of the season. And it prevented customer frustration.

Not all cloud solutions allow customization, so we were lucky. Evaluate software choices carefully before choosing. Of course, if you code your own software solution, then mistake-proofing should be brilliantly hidden from the customer's experience. User interactions should be seamless and well-designed with built in poka-yokes. For a little more info, check out “Poka-Yoke is Not a Joke” in the Harvard Business Review. 

And here is a fun video explaining the poka-yoke concept: