Poka yoke is a quality management concept developed by a Matsushita manufacturing engineer named Shigeo Shingo to prevent human errors from occurring in the production line. Poka yoke (pronounced “poh-kah yoh-kay”) comes from two Japanese words—“yokeru” which means, “to avoid”, and “poka” which means “inadvertent errors.” Thus, Poka yoke more or less translates to “avoiding inadvertent errors”.
Poka yoke is sometimes referred to in English by some people as “fool-proofing”. However, this doesn’t sound politically correct if applied to employees, so the English equivalent used by Shingo was "error avoidance." Other variants like “mistake-proofing” or “fail-safe operation” have likewise become popular.
The main objective of Poke Yoke is to achieve zero defects. In fact, it is just one of the many components of Shingo’s Zero Quality Control (ZQC) system, the goal of which is to eliminate defective products.
Poka yoke is more of a concept than a procedure. Thus, its implementation is governed by what people think they can do to prevent errors in their workplace and not by a set of step-by-step instructions on how they should do their job.
Poka yoke is implemented by using simple objects like fixtures, jigs, gadgets, warning devices, paper systems, and the like to prevent people from committing mistakes, even if they try to! These objects, known as Poka yoke devices, are usually used to stop the machine and alert the operator if something is about to go wrong.
Anybody can and should practice Poka yoke in the workplace. Poke-Yoke does not entail any rocket science—sometimes it just needs common sense and the appropriate Poka yoke device. Poka yoke devices should have the following characteristics: