Tips for Lean Managers

Going Back to School for Hoshin Kanri

By Jon Miller Published on May 18th, 2006

I’ve taught Hoshin Kanri half a dozen times to clients but I struggle to put it into practice at Gemba. You won’t be interested in hearing my excuses, and it’s my fault that we’ve had Hoshin Kanri annual plans in place for each of the last two years but not properly deployed them. My team finally sent me back to school this week to remove any final mental obstacles (excuses) I may have. The LEI road show is in town and I am taking their 2-day class on Hoshin Kanri. This is my first LEI class and I finished day 1 yesterday.
Hoshin Kanri is what happened when the Japanese took Peter Drucker’s MBO (Management By Objectives) and added TQC (Total Quality Control) to it to make it much more fact based and structured. Since then it’s been called Policy Deployment, Strategy Deployment, Hoshin Planning and now thanks to the naming wizards at LEI, Policy Management.
In essence Hoshin Kanri aims to have the leadership of an organization identify what are the vital few (3 to 5) breakthrough objectives and subordinate all other goals or projects to achieving those goals. Then a process called “catch ball” is used to make sure that these goals are SMART (Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time based) and most important, that resources are available. This catch ball goes on back and forth between different levels of the organization until there is alignment and agreement that the stretch goals are not out of sight.
Twenty people attending the 2 day training class on Hoshin Kanri represent Alaska Airlines, The Boeing Company, Brinks, California Box, CMTC, Esco Corporation, Cummins Engine, Group Health Cooperative, Johnson & Johnson, MD Helicopter and the U.S. Air Force.
Our trainer is Pascal Dennis. He is author of Andy & Me and is working on a book due out in 2006 titled Getting the Right Things Done. Pascal is an energetic and convincing teacher and I would recommend taking his class for anyone fortunate enough to have a management team willing to commit to implementing Hoshin Kanri.
We spent a lot of time today on PDCA, A3 Reports, and a high-level overview of Hoshin Kanri. Lean professionals might take it for granted that people understand PDCA and the A3 thinking process. I think Pascal spent as much time as he did on it today because people need to “know why” more than to know how or what. By going back again and again to the importance of PDCA and the problem solving discipline, it makes Hoshin Kanri much easier to do.
There were some good case studies and small group discussions and practice sessions. Pascal’s stories of his experiences at Toyota in Cambridge, Ontario were particularly entertaining and effective means of teaching. We covered a lot of information in one day, possibly a bit too much for people who were new to the subject.
In the spirit of kaizen, and without being asked, I have two improvement suggestions for this class. First, time management was a weak point. We had 2 breaks during the 4-hour morning session and 2 in the afternoon 4-hour session. Not bad if you are doing physical work, but tough for sit-down training. The 5 and 10 minute breaks were never kept to that short. No start time after the lunch break was specified, so we lost some time starting back up. Pascal asked and received permission to extend for 30 minutes past the end time, but exceeded that by 20 minutes.
Second, all trainers (and Lean trainers particularly) should avoid using jargon without explaining it first. Pascal introduced kamishibai boards but did not explain it. This term will probably be new to just about everyone except for folks on the line at Toyota North America, or to people who spent their childhood in Japan. I have never heard this word used in a Lean context before. Kamishibai is Japanese for “paper theatre” or a series of color drawings that tell a story, usually a children’s folk tale or a moral lesson like “here’s what happens when you play with matches”. I remember the kamishibai of the ant and the grasshopper making a big impression on me when I was young.
When I was very young and living in Japan, itinerant entertainers would gather children in a public space like a park and use these visuals to tell a story (and collect money from us usually by selling us candy at inflated prices). They were also sometimes used in kindergarten or elementary school for storytelling. They are still in use for early education and storytelling at schools in Japan. In a kaizen context I think kamishibai boards are essentially visual storyboards to explain problem solving activity.
Unless I’m mistaken and there’s a lot more to these kamishibai boards at Toyota, “storyboard” is completely sufficient, and there is absolutely no reason to use this Japanese term unless you want to demonstrate that you know a Japanese Lean term that your listener does not.
Pascal says it took him 5 annual Hoshin Kanri cycles to “get it” and see how all of the pieces connect. With the valuable insights he is sharing with us, it should take everyone else half of that time or less.
My question going into day 2 remains: How to practically apply Hoshin Kanri in a small, fast growing company? It’s not so hard in a large, relatively stable organization. I’ve found it’s harder to set the “hard goals” (revenue, profitability) and work towards them (due to rapid growth) and also hard to keep focused on the objectives set in the annual plan when opportunities which appear much greater emerge. I look forward to day 2.

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