Mistake-Proofing Mistakes

By: Bruce Hamilton, President, GBMP

There is a popular lore provided by Shigeo Shingo that the original name for mistake-proofing (poka-yoke) was “fool-proofing” (baka-yoke). Shingo chided managers at Panasonic for using the latter term, as it was disrespectful to workers, essentially calling them fools. Shingo substituted the word “fool” for “mistake,” because, as he aptly noted, making mistakes is part of humanity. “Mistakes are inevitable,” he said, “but the defects that arise from them are not.”

Notwithstanding Mr. Shingo’s admonitions, however, I still hear the term “fool-proofing” used regularly, and occasionally with a little more venom, “idiot-proofing.” No doubt, these derogatory terms, along with others like “screw-up” and its less gentile derivatives, have given a bad name to one of the most energizing, empowering and creative tools from the TPS toolbox.

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