Tool: Poka-Yoke Adoption

Poka-Yoke (from Japanese; exact meaning: “Mistake Proofing”) applied to the process of adoption of Sustainable Practices, is a way of sequencing and scoping Lean-Agile practices in such a manner as to prevent creating any room for the Reductionist Mindset to sustain.

Figure 1. An example of Poka-Yoke concept applied to connectors. It’s really hard to connect them in the wrong way.

Let’s consider an example, keeping in mind that while there are certain commonalities, certain aspects of Poka-Yoke may be context dependent. In our example Susan, a change champion in her organization, wants to deploy as many Lean-Agile capabilities for her enterprise as she can. Among other things, she was working on adoption of prioritized backlogs and validated learning as two connected practices. Her Mental Model of reality suggested that if she implemented validated learning, namely, frequent customer validation, as well as hypothesis thinking, it would allow to provide rapid feedback loop for the backlog refinement and this was the two practices would perfectly complement each other. What happened in reality was a quite different picture: her organization got deeply into backlogs and prioritization while making no advancement whatsoever with respect to validated learning. Susan, being a smart and experienced coach, figured out that maintaining backlog is a relatively easy task, while establishing a tight collaboration with the customer and adopting a new way of generating business demand was something her organization was absolutely not geared up to do. As a result, they simply followed the Path of Least Resistance. Moreover, the impact, as she noticed, was not just in the organization’s lack of feedback to their backlog management. She discovered that despite the fact that they operated in an open-loop environment, both the stakeholders and the teams had a pretty strong conviction that they’ve succeeded with Agile. She realized that this also gave way to old Reductionist Mindset to solidify under the cover of “Agile” practices they’ve adopted. Susan had to fully redirect everyone’s attention to the missing part and after a while they’ve succeeded. Susan believes in life-long learning. Her big takeaway was to avoid throwing too many new practices at her teams and stakeholders, and instead to gradually grow her organization’s capabilities. Moreover, in the future, she decided, she will help her organization select practices in such a way that they will have to confront old thinking habits and that there will be no more false progress with practices that have no real capability to shift mindset. In the retrospect, she concluded that she would have been much better off starting with validated learning while all the detail of backlog management could come later, as soon as the organization starts showing visible progress in hypothesis thinking and frequent customer validation…

Poka-Yoke Adoption, while being generally context-dependent, also has some commonalities. Some common suggestions are:

  • Avoid adopting too many practices at once. The result often is selective application of mainly those practices that do not openly contradict the existing mindset.
  • Avoid enhancing implementation practices without proper attention to practices that support validated learning. Same reason as above: implementation practices are easier to adopt as they don’t drastically affect the mindset.
  • For any practice, make sure that the right aspects are being adopted. This implies the desirable definition of a practice in the organizational context in such a way as to bring the mindset-critical aspects forward.

It is also important to remember that without proper support, even practices that once showed promise, may begin to deteriorate as people slip into their old habits and thinking. That often is a result of improper adoption process which leads to Black Diamond anti-pattern. To address this situation, and overall reinforce the Poka-Yoke model, other tools for building sustainable practices become helpful (see Embedded Mental Models and Benefit-Constraint Analysis).


Ⓒ Org Mindset, LLC