I have come to the conclusion that there are two types of people in this world: ones that open a box and read the instructions carefully before assembly and the others that assemble first without looking at the instructions unless a major problem occurs. Even though I am a pretty good engineer, I always read the instructions first. My wife happens to fall in with the other crowd.



During the upcoming holiday season, many parents will be purchasing gifts that have in small print "some assembly required" on the box. Without exception, many of us will be burning the midnight oil in a frantic attempt to complete the task of assembly before Christmas morning. In those late-night sessions, assembly problems can quickly add frustration regardless if you read instructions first or not, although I really believe that reading the instructions first significantly lowers the chance of an assembly error.

Do you read instructions carefully before assembly? Good manufacturers will recognize that there exists in our world this great divide between the instruction readers and the intuitive assemblers. Great manufacturers will put a system in place to prevent operator errors for both groups.

So, what is a manufacturer to do in order to prevent operator errors? An excellent lean tool quickly comes to mind called poka-yoke. Poka-yoke is a system or device that prevents errors before they become problems. It is also known as error-proofing or mistake-proofing.



I came across an excellent example of a simple poka-yoke recently when I purchased a wireless card for my laptop computer. Yes, I am just now moving to wireless. Following the Toyota way of only going to proven technology, I have resisted earlier temptations to go wireless.

I purchased a wireless card from Linksys, a division of Cisco Systems. In bold letters, the first instruction on the instruction sheet clearly points out to run the CD first before connecting the device to your PC. The poka-yoke system Cisco Systems used to prevent an operator error in this step is a simple label. Knowing that some people never read the instructions first, they placed this label with the same warning to run the CD first on both the CD and the wireless card. As a result, no matter what I picked up first, I see this important instruction. I bet this simple poka-yoke has dramatically reduced, if not eliminated, the error of not running the CD first. Outstanding job, Cisco!

Look at your processes and products. How can operator errors occur? Think how a simple poka-yoke can eliminate the error and make it mistake-proof like Cisco Systems.