Tips for Lean Managers

Three of the Lessons Learned from Gemba’s 2007 Hoshin Kanri

By Jon Miller Published on November 4th, 2007

We are in our pre-planning phase for our 2008 hoshin kanri (policy deployment) here at Gemba. That means we start by reflecting on 2007 and the progress made so far. Without airing too much dirty laundry, here are three of the lessons learned from Gemba’s 2007 hoshin kanri efforts, and some things we’re thinking of doing to adjust.
There was not a safe environment to make problems visible. In a factory or hospital it is easy to quantify safety losses because people can be injured or killed. We need to go beyond physical safety, particularly in a knowledge work environment. In office work or management, emotional or professional safety can be at greater risk. Is it safe to openly identify problems, mistakes, and gaps in performance? Does the company culture create fear or a sense of security that problems will be exposed and addressed? Or do people feel attacked and either defend their position (guard against removal of root cause) or resist passively?
For example when you accept people into your organization who say “I don’t think I need to be coached,” at any level, this should be a huge red flag. It is a clear violation of standard working practices for someone working in a Lean company to say “Don’t expose my problems.” What we’ve learned is that you must coach these people, and if change does not occur, show them the door. This not a people problem, it’s a process problem. From the HR / hiring standpoint, we didn’t make sure the people we had fit our culture. More importantly, our culture was not robust and inclusive enough to bring these people along.
Two countermeasures: increasing the visibility of standards and problems while creating a safer environment to address these problems.
We lacked discipline in creating good problem statements. It took several forehead-slapping moments while working with clients this year before I realized that forming good problems statements does not necessarily come naturally to members of the general population (e.g. non-kaizen teachers). So in hindsight, without seeing this gap and addressing it through practical training, it is no surprise that we continue to struggle to write down good problem statements, do nemawashi and other consensus-building communication, and drill down to the root cause as a team. We attempt to solve problems statements containing bias in the form of causes, solutions, and conjecture, because this is so much faster and works quite well to fix the problem, in the short term. But neither kaizen nor hoshin kanri are about the short term.
A countermeasure: more work as a team on getting better at the first step of the problem solving process.
Too many objectives. I can’t believe we fell for this one… How many objectives is too many for a hoshin plan? Textbooks on hoshin kanri will tell you to limit the top-level breakthrough objectives to 3 – 5 at most. The logic of focusing on the “vital few” in Peter Senge’s words is impeccable, yet it is too easy to tuck in a few more objectives disguises as strategies under those 3 – 5.
In 2007 Gemba had 2 top level objectives, but so far we have failed to put adequate resources towards these to achieve our goals. I won’t get into the reason why, but suffice it to say that one should have no more top level objectives than one’s resources will support. In the words of one of my TPS sensei, “Don’t worry so much about prioritizing your many actions. Do this one thing now.”
A countermeasure: More catch ball, towards a realistic matching of resources and objectives.
We still have a few months to go in 2007 and we’re still chopping away at our hoshin objectives, such as they are. Lessons learned through struggles with Hoshin Kanri at Gemba this yearwill make us a better company in 2008.

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