Operations Management


Written by Andrew Goldman for Gaebler Ventures

Jidoka is the Japanese term for lantern. Jidokas alert managers of problems before they occur. Learn more about Jidokas in the following article.

One of the great tools of Operations Management is called a Jidoka.


Jidoka means lantern in Japanese and is used to help alert supervisors when there is a potential problem. The idea is that rather than having a supervisor or employee wait for a problem or machine breakdown, they can work elsewhere and observe the "lantern" if an issue is soon to arise.

The Jidoka helps employees utilize their time more efficiently and allows maintenance to be proactive to in fixing a machine before it breaks down.

While small businesses typically do not invest in Jidokas, understanding their importance and the problems they seek to eliminate can help the small business owner run a more efficient company.

Traditionally, employees could be found standing next to machines, watching them run and waiting for a problem to occur. The employee would listen to the sounds of the machine and watch the gears and gizmos. The employee could recognize a potential problem and aim to fix the problem before the machine totally broke down. While this may seem like an okay situation, from an Operations Management point of view it is not.

An employee standing around watching a machine is not adding value to the product. The machine is adding value to the product, but the employee is just aiding the operation of the machine. There are obviously far more productive tasks an employee could be completing. The Jidoka would help in this area, with a series of lights attached to the machine, which would light up and indicate when a potential issue was arising. This way, one employee could now observe 15 machines as opposed to just one.

The small business owner should understand this concept and why an employee watching a machine is not a value added activity. If your company has this problem, there may be creative ways to fix the problem. If there is an employee who feeds the machine or collects material off the machine, they could learn the maintenance process and warning signs of a machine break down.

Another goal of Jidokas is to alert employees when a machine is soon to breakdown. This allows maintenance to be proactive in solving the problem. By fixing a machine before it breaks down, there is minimal downtime and employees don't have to stand around and wait for the machine to be fixed.

The small business can learn from this concept by implementing preventative maintenance. By being proactive in taking care of our machines, we can avoid major breakdowns that will slow down our entire production process. Make sure that your employees are practicing preventative maintenance on all your equipment. This minor investment in time will keep your machines running smoothly and extend their overall life.

Andrew Goldman is an Isenberg School of Management MBA student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has extensive experience working with small businesses on a consulting basis.

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