articleOff Topic

Three Tips for More Effective Hansei (Reflection)

By Jon Miller Updated on May 4th, 2015

ReflectionHansei is a Japanese word meaning “reflection” or “self-reflection”. It has entered the lean vocabulary through the literature on hoshin planning, and more generally through discussions of what actually happens in the Check/Study and Act phases of the PDCA cycle. These phases are times for examination of both the results and the process or steps that were followed to achieve (or fail to achieve) those results. In contrast to highly results-oriented reviews, the hansei process value internal reflection and personal growth of people as much as achieving the business results themselves. Hansei can be personal or with a group, in either case it is a deeply human process.

One of the less often quoted lean principles is “good processes bring good results” or simply “good process, good results”. This conviction underlies many lean behaviors such as going to the gemba to confirm the current situation of the process instead of simply believing reports, relentlessly attacking problems at the process level while not attacking and blaming people in the name of “holding people accountable”, and the creation of standards and standardized work as a basis for both predictable results and future improvement. Process-focused thinking is better than results-focused thinking in part because a narrow results-focus allows for the possibility of cheating or cutting corners in order to get results, i.e. believing the ends justify the means. Process-focused thinking is following rules and standards in order to meet goals, and improving the process when results fall short. It is “process and results” because the purpose of a good process IS a good result.

When this idea is applied to lean implementations, it is necessary to do hansei and ask the question, “How much time do our leaders spend discussing the results of lean and how much time discussing the process?” There is no hansei possible when discussing only results. The results guide the direction and depth of the hansei, but reflection must be on the process, on the actions taken to get the results. Only be deeply examining the nuts and bolts of the actions can leaders offer useful support and guidance for their people to achieve better results.

I gained an important hint about hansei from a Scientific American article titled Banking Culture Encourages Dishonesty. A series of studies showed that when people focus on money, they behave in more self-interested ways, are less helpful to others, less sensitive to social rejection and more prone to cheating. More broadly, those who spend more time crunching numbers develop what is called a “calculative mindset” that results in a quantitative approach to problem solving, sometimes at the expense of considering moral consequences. These individual behaviors become organizational culture when performed repeatedly.

If a naturally money-focused banking culture is more prone to dishonesty, what does that say about the rest of us? Money is ubiquitous in our lives. Are we being constantly primed to cheat and be dishonest when handling money? And what about those of us whose jobs involve quantitative analysis of process data in order to make improvements? Are we being slowly condition to be less moral? The article offers hope.  

“Whereas money is a self-serving resource, time is an interpersonally connecting and more personally meaningful resource.” 

Time, it turns out, is not money. Time heals all wounds. How we spend time converts labor into wealth. Capital wisely allocated in good investments only increase in value by adding the ingredient of time. How can we use time, both the idea and the mysterious fourth dimension, to improve how we do hansei and thereby improve ourselves? I offer three concrete tips for more effective hansei.

1. Look at yourself in the mirror. This is foremost to remind oneself that it is time for hansei. The act of literally reflecting in the mirror is a method to prime mental self-reflection. It does not require stating into a mirror, only acknowledging the self, perhaps correcting a frown to a smile and setting the right mental frame. Lacking a mirror, a window, the still surface or water or a camera phone will do.

2. Think about time. “How did I spend my time today? How did the way I spent my time help me to improve my lot? How can I spend more time with the people and things that I love?” These are the ultimate process questions. Reflecting on one’s control over time naturally leads to self-control, effectiveness of the planning and use of time and energy, and motivation to advance oneself to a position or career that better reflects how we wish to spend our time.

3. Write down your hansei points. For personal hansei, this does not have to be more than a few words in a notebook, things that went well and things that need improvement. The process of writing it down requires an honest acknowledgement of reality. Keep it short and from the heart. For a team or group hansei, it is best to write it on a board where everyone can see and agree on the wording.

I found the following words from the article to be powerful:

“Thinking about time triggers greater self-reflection than money. Such self-reflection may be a simple exercise, but it is an important one: it reminds us of that we want to be good people.”

This made me reflect on my own personal journey in trying to make hansei a habit. When I was young and felt invulnerable, hansei only happened after a screw-up triggered a strong sense of surprise, shock or shame and the desire to be a better person in some way. With more years and the benefit of experience, hansei also extended to an event scheduled on a calendar every few months. This is where I believe many leaders and leadership teams are still stuck – hansei as a special event linked to a shock or a business review. More recently, I have experimented with weekly week-end hansei in an effort to check and correct direction more frequently. Now, with the benefit of clarity on how I want to spend my time every day, hansei as described above has become part of my daily routine. I’ve found that personal hansei is better when it’s on time and about time.

  1. Jason Yip

    May 4, 2015 - 12:13 pm


    “Look at yourself in the mirror” vs “Look yourself in the mirror”

  2. Jon Miller

    May 4, 2015 - 12:53 pm

    Thanks Jason, corrected.

  3. Joe H.

    May 4, 2015 - 4:14 pm

    Is there a special hansei for use at the end of an improvement project or kaizen event?

    Something similar to a DMAIC Control phase post mortem of what went well what could have been done better?

    Or would this conflict with a continuous never ending improvemnt outlook?

    Best regards,

  4. Jon Miller

    May 4, 2015 - 4:41 pm

    Hi Joe

    Hansei in general is used in the way you describe, as part of project reviews or post-event reviews. Taiichi Ohno said as much as, “To check is to do hansei” in reference to the “check / study” phase of the PDCA cycle. So I think we can say that spirit of hansei exists in any type of improvement. The format may differ between a personal daily hansei and a post-project team hansei.

    The two methods aren’t in conflict. In the broadest sense, continuous improvement includes project-based improvement, kaizen event-type improvement and the smallest daily improvements. The conflict only comes when we start to say “this method, but not that method” in trying to have only a few permitted methods of improving.


  5. Robert Thompson

    May 20, 2015 - 5:26 am

    I like the Hansei quote from Bruce Browlee, General Manager at the Toyota Technical Center. Chapter 20 of the Toyota Way lists this as follows, “It is really being honest about your own weaknesses. If you are talking about only your strengths, you are bragging. If you are recognizing your weaknesses with sincerity, it is a high level of strength. But is does not end there. How do you change to overcome those weaknesses? That is at the root of Kaizen (continuous improvement). If you do not understand hansei, then kaizen is just continuous improvement. Hansei is the incubator for change – that whole process.”

    How good are we all at performing Hansei? We tend to analyse or reflect on a situation when there is a serious issue to solve or fix. And even then it is to find someone to blame.

    I find that asking, “what went well” and “what are the areas for improvement” after each action helps. This is especially powerful if you are in a team environment.

Have something to say?

Leave your comment and let's talk!

Start your Lean & Six Sigma training today.