Three Hoshin Habits for Effective Execution

One of the people I most respect as a business leader often repeats the phrase “go slow to go fast”. There is a nearly identical Toyota way principle which states that slow and deliberate planning will speed up execution of that plan greatly. The reverse is also true. Quick and shallow planning leads to poor execution with many delays and rework, and this is too often the case. Of course companies can have quick planning and a great culture of execution but this has a higher cost both in terms of effort and the organizational learning that fails to happen as a result of curtailed feedback to the next cycle of planning.
By faithfully following the PDCA cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act) whether in problem solving or business planning, we can develop an organization that improves rapidly, that is self-correcting and that is sustainable. When PDCA is not practiced at the highest levels of the company, the realm of strategy and long-term planning, even excellent companies face decline or the inability to respond quickly to shifting conditions. One major element in the recipe for Toyota’s success may be the thorough practice of PDCA, both explicitly and implicitly. For the most part the leadership has gone through years of hands-on training and mentoring in the use of PDCA as a thought process and management method.
We could say that to have effective execution all we need to do is adopt PDCA and teach it to everyone. However this is much easier said than done. This requires much practical education and learning by doing, starting at the leadership level. The ideal way to do this is to adopt policy deployment (hoshin kanri) as a management practice. Using hoshin as a framework for implementing lean manufacturing or lean healthcare can also be a great way to test the limits of management commitment, the validity of the goals of the implementation and to create a regular review process for the implementation. But sadly since it is a strategy planning deployment method and only indirectly delivers business results, too many times leaders skip this step and go directly into implementing what may be hastily laid plans.
Even without calling what you are diong policy deployment or without adopting a particular hoshin kanri conventions for documenting and reporting on progress against plans, we can practice more effective execution of our plans. We simply need to demonstrate the habits that get us the results we want. Here are a just three “hoshin habits” you can begin with today:
Align vectors. Develop the habit of asking, “How does this change align or support our top level goals (policy)?” Do this even when it is obvious to test others to whom it may not be obvious. It becomes a teaching opportunity. Whenever you find a gap, challenge the team to find a focus or target that is more suitable. For effective execution, link the action to the goal of the team or department at a minimum. This question is similar to the “5 why” questioning of root cause analysis and helps build our critical thinking. When the link cannot be found or when it seems that there is no alignment between execution and the plan, it may be that the project is not mission critical to the strategy. Another possibility is that your metrics don’t accurately reflect the importance of the action. Yet another possibility is a poor strategy, in which case, turn the PDCA cycle yet again as you have learned something.
Build consensus. Most often this simply means listening, clarifying and occasionally modifying the plan to address genuine concerns or risks that others have identified, and which you may have missed. This may take time but often speeds up the implementation even in the face of challenges. This may seem like step one but in fact this is an ongoing process. It is not possible to develop consensus with 100% of the stakeholders at the beginning. As the plan changes, so do the stakeholders, their relative influence, their level of support for the change and its importance to them. It is much easier to build consensus after you have aligned people mentally and by focusing on a vital few projects, markets or themes.
CAP it. The PDCA cycle may start with the identification of a problem, the setting of targets, analysis of root causes and identification of countermeasures (Plan) but in day-to-day reality when we are deep in the Do this looks more like CAP – Check, Act, Plan. We need to install and test a strong “check and act” process that returns you to Plan enlightened, if a little beat up by facing reality up close. Policy deployment is often shortened “PD” but I tell people “The ‘PD’ doesn’t stand for ‘Plan Do!'”. Checks should be small and frequent, in person and as “go see” activities whenever possible. The Act or adjust step should be based on the facts of the observed (checked) results and process.
It takes faith and commitment to “go slow to go fast” especially when there are pressures each day to speed up response time, improve quality and safety, while reducing cost. The demand for results is not slowing down. That is all the more reason to pause and check whether in all of our frantic activity there might not be some things we can stop doing, realign our vectors and strengthen consensus. We need to go slow, yet with urgency. Plans change, and when they do it is handy to have hoshin habits and a constancy of purpose towards an effective execution of our adjusted plans.

4 Comments

  1. John Santomer

    July 21, 2009 - 1:41 am

    Jon,
    Great post! I’ve got a tricky question you may want to consider. In our company, before anything rolls out in motion – strategy sheets have been discussed, pitches have been made and all the stakeholders have been briefed and brought on board. “Tatakidai” and “Nemawashi” has always been forefront to get consensus and pull everyone on the same page, so to speak.
    Mid-way between roll down and completion, a major stake holder “changes heart” because of various human emotions/interest which are unlikely that he/she may want to show publicly to the group. We try our best to stick to the strategic plan, and as you advise “CAP” it. We did but the lack of “hoshin” and acceptance of “hoshin kanri” within the division where the task/s has been handed down seriously slows down any positive advancement. To a point, even an over turned long dragging obstacle has tolled down on the group so bad and the members are left demoralized. After all, if the group does fail in the task/s, its the group members put on the line and not the major stakeholder…
    We are way past aligning vectors and we hope to see the sustainability of the task/s. What other areas do we look into more and what other strategy can be made to help the task/s attain sustainability under such circumstances?

  2. Jon Miller

    July 21, 2009 - 7:14 am

    Hi John
    Without knowing a lot more about your situation the simple answer is that it seems your team has not really practices the first two habits (align vectors or build consensus) sufficiently.
    It is not so much that stakeholders “change heart” as much as that you never had them fully on board to begin with. The plan can certainly change with new input, and people will change their minds, but when people are going backwards on their support it is an issue both of alignment and consensus.
    If this happens more than once you are also failing to CAP it or learn from past failures. In the plan phase you need to ask “What will we do this time when one of our stakeholders has a change of heart?” and “What do we need to do to address any potential causes of a change of heart mid-program?” You need to perform root cause analysis on the reasons for these changes of heart and arrival of obstacles.
    I don’t think there are any other strategies, just doing the fundamentals better.

  3. Yildiz Biner

    July 21, 2009 - 3:58 pm

    Excellent article. Thank you for providing such pragmatic advice that will still keep one moving toward the ideal state. Such a combination of pragmatism and idealism leads to wisdom, not just knowledge.
    Yildiz

  4. Mahendiran Selvaraj

    July 27, 2009 - 1:55 pm

    John,
    Hoshin keeps the company on track. Companies may try a simpler approach of developing a hoshin at the beginning of the year as a team and go from there. Doing Hoshin as a team is critical as it leads to consensus and eliminates confusion. It is really worth the time spending on aligning and creating consensus at the beginning itself.
    Mahendiran Selvaraj