Hoshin Kanri: Steel, Needles, Tubes, and Logic

By Ron Pereira Updated on January 14th, 2011

Hoshin Kanri. Have you heard of it? If you’ve been around the lean world you likely have.

Well, over the coming weeks I plan to cover the highlights of what hoshin kanri is and how you and your organization might best leverage it.

In this first article I want to break the words – hoshin kanri – down a bit. And before I do I must confess… I do have a secret weapon that has armed me with the knowledge I am about to share. His name is Brad Schmidt.

Brad is my friend and business partner. Brad also runs the Gemba Research Japan office where he lives. Brad was educated and grew up in Japan and, as such, is fluent in Japanese.

And as it turns out, during the taping of Gemba Academy’s Lean Lingo course, Brad broke down the characters of this mysterious word. And in doing so, really opened my eyes to what this word means.

High Level Definition

At a high level, the words ho-shin can be translated as direction while kan-ri can be described as management.

Put another way, one could say hoshin kanri means “direction management” or something similar.

Now, if you’ve read a book or two you likely knew this. So let’s dig a little deeper.

Direction & Compass

When we look a little closer at the Japanese characters that make up hoshin we learn that the first character, we call ho, means direction.

The second character, we call shin, can mean compass… or even more accurately steel and needle. So, imagine a needle on a compass pointing the way to the promised land.

Tube & Logic

Now, up to this point Brad hadn’t said anything I hadn’t heard of before… that soon changed when he discussed the characters that made up the word kanri.

The first set of characters for the word kan, means tube. In fact, Brad explained that the sewer pipes in Japan are called kan as “things” pass through this type of tube.

The last character that makes up the word ri means logic.

So, kanri literally means tube logic. In other words we’re pushing logic through a tube! Neat, huh?

Stay tuned

Over the next few weeks I plan to write some additional articles on what hoshin kanri means to me and how I have personally used it.

What about you?

What about you? Have you used hoshin kanri before? If so, how did it work out for you?

  1. Steven Pinkerton

    December 7, 2010 - 9:38 am

    My company has used hoshin for several years. It was a learning process as we initially tried to do too much. We also struggled with lack of discipline on a month to month basis with the bowling charts. But we didn’t quit and are not seeing the benefits of aligned goals.

  2. Ed Kemmerling

    December 7, 2010 - 9:57 am

    Having worked with a number of organizations on Hoshin Kanri implementation, the one lesson learned is to Keep It Simple. Too often, we try to impress clients with our “sophisticated” knowledge of the process, and the result is confusion and failure.

    Simple graphics that show the alignment of organizational objectives with each layer of management have worked very well for me.

    Also, a concise definition of success goes a long way. One example: “When we can ask anyone on the floor what they are working on, and they respond with a connection to organizational goals.”

    Ed Kemmerling
    [email protected]

  3. Mark Welch

    December 7, 2010 - 11:34 am

    Very enlightening! I just couldn’t help but make the connection between the sewer tubes and planning. Does this mean that if Hoshin Kanri is done poorly that what’s coming out of the tubes is, um, well, you know… crap?

    Sorry. My German side makes me see connections but most days my fun-loving Irish side wins the battle.

    Seriously, this is good stuff, Ron. I’m looking forward to more posts on this topic.

  4. Greg Boos

    December 7, 2010 - 7:39 pm

    I have seen it interpreted very similarly in the past and extended to mean “shining metal pointing upward”, meaning the hoshin kanri directs us to our “true north”. We used hoshin planning successfully in my last job. We have discussed it here, but not implemented any of it yet.

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