Reflections on Hoshin

By Jon Miller Updated on December 6th, 2015

hoshin reflectionOver the past two of weeks I have had six unrelated conversations about hoshin planning. In contrast, this number is zero to one in any typical two-week period during the year. Perhaps this is because of the end of year interest in better strategy deployment for the new year, or just coincidence. In any case, these conversations have been interesting for the three common themes that have emerged.

Be Ordinary Before being Extraordinary

Like most elements of lean management, hoshin planning was brought into the Western consciousness as a fragment, removed from its context and often with emphasis on its superficial and visible elements. As part of a management system, hoshin planning or “policy management” is one half of a pair with nichijo kanri or “daily management”.  The Japanese word “hoshin” translates to policy, plan, purpose or target. The word “nichijo” means everyday, ordinary, normal, regular or daily, depending on the context. The focus given to the flashier hoshin management has tricked us into missing the fact that what we really want is good management, or hoshin + daily.

After being largely ignored for the first decade or so by the lean mainstream, daily management is now in vogue, as leader standard work, lean daily management system, visual performance management, structured gemba walks and so forth. For companies lacking basic daily management, putting these behaviors and systems in place is a greater focus of lean than rearranging the furniture for flow.  Hoshin, or the focused and disciplined pursuit of extraordinary objectives, requires being better than competent at the ordinary. We need to be fit enough to jog, or at least walk, before sprinting and leaping.

Put another way, daily management focuses on what the management already knows about how the business works, and hoshin or policy management focuses on learning what we don’t yet know by placing bets on ambitious goals. A management team has no business diving boldly into the unknown of new strategies when there is too much that is unknown about how to manage day-to-day. The one exception would be using the hoshin process to make “establish a solid daily management” a breakthrough objective.

Are you Ready for Some Catch Ball?

The correct image of catch ball is two people languidly throwing a baseball or football back and froth on a lazy summer afternoon, synching into a rhythm. Too many leadership teams confuse catch ball with dodge ball, or even the competition between pitcher and better. There is no winner and loser in catch ball. The aim of catch ball is to arrive at true agreement on how a team will get things done. This requires examining the leader’s assumptions about a strategic objective by allowing the subordinate to poke holes in it through two-way dialogue.

Hoshin management is guiding people’s extraordinary actions and efforts toward the long-term policy or direction of the company. Of course the future is not possible to predict with any great accuracy, so the means to achieve the targets are at best estimations or guesses. Through experimentation we learn what we are capable of and how good are our assumptions, data and ability to adapt when wrong. Part of the catch ball process is for everyone to recognize where knowledge ends and assumptions begin, before launching into strategic initiatives.

How does a leader know if she is ready for some catch ball? A good way is to try out two-way communication in the context of day-to-day management. Communicate expectations, give feedback on performance, ask for and listen to feedback on the feedback. If this feedback is vague slow in coming, it may be a sign that the culture is not yet sufficiently free of blame and fear to allow for good catch ball.

Still Waters Reflect More Clearly

Anyone considering adoption of the practice of hoshin needs to honestly reflect on the state of their daily management. Are operations stable and reliable enough to allow the organization to take on more ambitious breakthrough objectives without distraction? How well can we see reflections on the surface of stormy water?

Catch ball is a form of reflection on how good or bad the assumptions underlying the objectives are, and making adjustments accordingly so that the objectives can be suitably challenging but realistically achievable. How smoothly does information move in both directions, free of hesitation and noise?

Success with hoshin demands a commitment to reflection. A leadership team’s main motivation for adopting hoshin planning can’t simply be to put rigor and structure in their organization around the pursuit of their strategic objectives. A strong, if not primary motivation, must be the regular reflection and learning from missed targets, the underlying bad assumptions, poor decision-making, blind spots and biases, that in order to become better leaders.

  1. Katie Anderson

    December 7, 2015 - 10:18 pm

    Great post, Jon. I’ve found myself having a few more strategy-focused conversations in the past weeks as well.

    Your first theme of needing to “be ordinary before being extraordinary” reminded me of an experience I had with a large healthcare client last year. I like using Lafley and Martin’s “Playing to Win” framework, that Matthew May has further developed, when guiding exec teams through the development of strategies. However, even though they had been on their Lean journey for a few years, we had the same realization that the organization to still focus on the basics of the business rather than on placing bets on ambitious goals. Or, as Lafley and Martin say – they still need to get good at “playing to play” before they are fit enough to “play to win”.

    I appreciate your insights!

  2. Siegfried

    December 10, 2015 - 7:37 am

    I am agree. My favorite is the pic of “still water reflect more clearly”.
    It´s not only about the visualization, it is also about the silence and emotional peace to see things in the right manner to find the right decision.

  3. Greg Williams

    December 28, 2015 - 6:23 pm

    I appreciate your insight with regards to hoshin kanri and nichijo kanri, two interdependent elements of the larger management system. Neither element works very effectively without the other, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and that holds true here as well. Thank you for the reminder to consider the whole system when discussing hoshin kanri. This was a very helpful post.

  4. Jon Miller

    January 11, 2016 - 3:03 pm

    Hello Greg
    Glad to be of help.

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