The Systems Thinker Blog

Poka Yoke: Mistake-Proof Your Business Systems

Posted byRon Carroll

We all make mistakes. It's part of being human. We lose our car keys; we mail a bill with an unsigned check; we flip the wrong light switch. (As a boy, my parents always said it cost a dollar every time you turn on a light, even for an instant.) In our personal life, we just accept these minor mistakes. Although, a childhood friend accidentally had the wrong tooth pulled—not so minor.

We all understand that mistakes happen—"no one is perfect"—but in business, repetitive mistakes can't be ignored. They drive away customers and create waste; the cost comes straight out of your net profit.

The Systems Thinker looks for simple solutions and procedures to eliminate the cost and consequences of these inadvertent errors.

Poka Yoke 

Poka Yoke is a Japanese term that describes "making something fail-safe or mistake-proof." Poka means "inadvertent mistake." Yoke means, "prevent."

Everyday examples include:

  • An electrical plug that can only be put into the socket one way
  • A bathtub or swimming pool with an overflow outlet
  • A sensor on an elevator that prevents the door from closing on people
  • A circuit breaker that shuts off when the electric current spikes
  • An orange cone that protects road maintenance workers
  • A software spellchecker that corrects misspelled words

An ofteny used Poka Yoke in business is the checklist. It helps employees to be thorough, and if necessary, do things in the right order. Email alerts and notifications prevent forgetfulness. The alarm that sounds when a forklift backs up, rubber bumpers on a push cart, and a "slippery when wet" sign, are all examples of things that prevent mistakes, accidents and damage.

When your tax person puts several little stickies on pages of your tax return that say "Sign Here," he or she is trying to eliminate the accidental error of not signing one of the pages, a mistake that will cause you unnecessary delay and hassle in getting your tax refund.

Poka Yoke Example

This past week I took my wife into same-day surgery to have a procedure performed on her wrist. In the waiting room, the physician's assistant verified with her that it was the left wrist. He then stamped the wrist with the word "Yes" to make sure there was no confusion in the operating room. This procedure eliminates the hospital's risk of performing surgery on the wrong hand, foot, limb and so forth. The physician's assistant also told me that the procedure was written in plain language on the patient's record—not cryptic medical jargon—and that the attending staff take a time-out before the procedure for one last review of what they are about to do. These important little steps prevent big problems later on.

Improve Quality with Poka Yoke

Do you see how simple, low-cost procedures can really improve the quality of your business operations? Pause for a minute to consider a solution for one of my first examples: lost car keys, mailed checks without a signature, or inadvertently flipping the wrong light switch. Send me a quick note me a quick note explaining how you would easily solve the problem.

Then, put Poka Yoke to work in your business systems and processes. Talk to your employees about re-occurring mistakes. Be careful not to blame people; let them know you are looking for weaknesses in the system. The worker may need to record the errors for a period of time so you can more clearly understand the problem. Come up with a Poka Yoke solution to eliminate the mistake once and for all!

Your simple solution will create happier customers, put a few more dollars in your pocket, and reduce some of your daily frustration.

But remember, little improvements add up, and make a big difference over the course of time. It is true that "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass!"

Related Article:
Cut Costs with this Simple System!

*****Special Alert: My Retirement is Your Gain*****

To give back to the entrepreneurial community, I HAVE DECIDED TO GIVE AWAY MY VALUABLE SYSTEMS-BUILDING SOFTWARE, ecOURSE, AND OTHER INFORMATION ABSOLUTELY FREE. By filling out the form on this page, you will go directly to a download page. This is not hype. There is no catch. You will receive a software product and a "college equivalent" eCourse on how to develop effective business systems and processes. Customers have been paying for this software and eCourse for fourteen years (see What Cutomers Are Saying).

I will show you how to eliminate business frustrations and make more money by creating remarkable systems and processes that boost customer loyalty, profitability and growth. The application of these strategies has proven to be of great worth for owners of many small and mid-size businesses. Put me to the test!

You will learn the following, and much more:

  • How to become a Systems Thinker and raise your business I.Q. by 80 points—OVERNIGHT.
  • What six elements are found in every great business system.
  • How you can remove waste and inefficiency, and build a results-driven organization.
  • Why good systems and processes are the essential ingredient to start, grow, fix or franchise (replicate) your business.

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I will not be trying to sell you because you are getting everything for FREE, much more than I have described here. I won't be contacting you; however, you can contact me for help with the software or your business at any time. Please browse around my website. If you have any questions, email me, Ron Carroll, at

I hope you enjoy and benefit from this FREE offer. It was a labor of love for me to develop. Becoming a Systems Thinker and using the Box Theory™ methodology will be one of the best decisions you have ever made.

I'll be cheering you on from my quiet fishing hole in the mountains of Utah.

I want to learn how to create remarkable business systems ...


OR, click below to learn more about our Free Software ...

Tags: Innovation, Quality, System Failure