Hansei on Hansei

As Taiichi Ohno said “Check is hansei” when referring to the third step of PDCA. I am doing hansei on the previous blog post on the topic of hansei. I did not think deeply enough about what “hansei” means and what “reflection” means. The more I use the word “reflection” to refer to the Toyota habit of hansei the less adequate it seems.

As a native speaker of English, “reflection” strikes me a a very intellectual exercise. Reflection is when a person considers past experiences or events and the impact they had. After reflection you could say “Hm. That’s interesting.” But still remain wholly unchanged.

“Han” means to change, turn over, turn upside down. “Sei” is the simplified form of a character meaning to look back upon, review, examine oneself. As a native speaker of Japanese “hansei” strikes me as both an intellectual and emotional exercise. With hansei there is a sense of shame, if that is not too hard of a word. This may come from having been asked to do a lot of hansei as a child, being told “hanse shinasai!” which in English might be “Learn to behave!”

The point is, when you do hansei it is almost never because you are “considering past experience” as if they were happy memories. You are confronting brutal facts about your actions and the impact they had, in hopes that you can learn from this and change your behavior in the future.

In fact, Toyota does hansei even when things go as planned (things go well) but even then they are asking “why?” as if there was something wrong. In fact, there is. At Toyota they say “no problem is a problem”. So when doing hansei you must look for the bad.

This reminds me of a story of a North American we’ll call Rob working at Toyota in Japan in a marketing function. He told us how his bosses were always asking him “How can you do better next time?” each time he completed a project. “It’s like your work is never good enough.” Rob said. Then after reflecting for few moments he said “Wait, maybe my work isn’t good enough.” Uncomfortable laughter filled the room.

Hansei meetings are fairly common in Japan at the end of a project. Where people in the U.S. or Europe might celebrate the completion of a project with an office party, and maybe PowerPointing some lessons learned, the Japanese would have a somber hansei-kai and then drown their hansei sorrows in drink.

Toyota takes hansei to another level by making an explicit part of their day to day management process. This also makes the end-of-project drowning of hansei sorrows less necessary, since you are doing one-piece flow hansei rather than “batch hansei”.

So if you want hansei to work for the people in your organization I would strongly suggest that you stop referring to hansei as “reflection” in English. Perhaps “repent” would be a better word., or “learn to behave!”


  1. jerry linnins

    September 14, 2007 - 8:56 am

    This concept, “hansei,” strikes me as an essential part of the learning cycle we as individuals, work groups, and organizations must progress through. Dr. David Kolb created a Learning Style Inventory and Experiential Learning model that emphasizes the need and/or predisposition of learners to reflect, to cull out emotional and intellectual “ah-has” for themselves from their life experiences. His book, EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING, is a great read.

  2. Nothanael Leon

    February 13, 2008 - 10:09 am

    Based on Hansei concept that we learned from Toyota experience. We had develop a LSS method to improve our document centers, where we use other tools as 5S, Process Map, and various lean tools according to necessities identified. As of today, we use this word to identify our process to schedule a continuous improvement projects all across our operations in Latin America, Asia and Middle East.