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Hoshin Kanri: Alice and the Cheshire Cat

The purpose of Hoshin Kanri is to translate your strategic challenges into tangible goals first, and then into initiatives, projects and actions at all levels of the organization.

`Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
`I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.
`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
`–so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
`Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.’
From: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” – Lewis Carroll

Hoshin Kanri (or “Policy Deployment”) has been around for a good 50 years now, and has known varying levels of popularity. Still, it is considered to be the crucial link between your business strategy and your enterprise excellence / operational excellence programme.

The purpose of Hoshin Kanri is to translate your strategic challenges into tangible goals first, and then into initiatives, projects and actions at all levels of the organization. A solid Hoshin process aligns all people in the organization with the strategic improvement goals, and should ensure people get a good understanding how they can contribute to reaching those goals.

But like Alice, before you can decide which way to go, you need to know where you want to get to.

A goal without a plan is just a dream

A goal without a plan is just a dream, but a plan without a goal is like running around in circles – lots of activity and effort, without getting you anywhere. A lot has been made of the tools that you can use or are presumed to use – but we find it is first of all a lot more important to ask the right questions.

  1. Question Number 1: Where are you going? Or: How Will you Know if you Got There? : This is all about setting SMART goals.
  2. Question Number 2: How will I get there? : This is about developing the implementation strategies in order to reach the goals.
  3. Question Number 3: What are the main steps and milestones along the way? : Milestones are all about setting checkpoints – important intermediate outcomes that help you check your progress. This is something you need to do for each of the strategies.
  4. Question Number 4: Who is going to do it? : You need an owner for each of the strategies. In some cases, where the accountabilities are cross-functional, you need more than one.
  5. Question Number 5: What will be next year’s goals? : Now we are getting in more tangible territory. This is all about getting agreement with the strategy owners on what is needed and what is achievable in one year.
  6. Question Number 6: What are the resources needed? : Somebody will have to do the work. We may need some investment. We may need to develop new capabilities. All this is going to take time and money, so it is going to require a budget.

Catch ball: matching targets with resources

This will lead to a first round of the so-called “catch ball”. This is a critical negotiation process, whereby targets are matched with resources. It already requires a deeper understanding of the effort that is required to reach the goals. It matches the “what” with the “how”.

At the senior management level, the understanding of “what it takes” to reach the goals may actually be limited. Ultimately, if this is truly about strategic change, ALL levels of the organisation will need to be involved, in order to build the capability to make it happen. Therefore, the catch ball process will need to be repeated between each organisational level, until it reaches the operational team levels. At each level, the goals and strategies will need to be translated into plans and resources, and then negotiated and agreed, through the catch ball process.

It will often happen, when getting into more and more operational details on what needs to happen and how, that targets and resources will get challenged. At this point, neither targets nor resources should be taken as cast in stone, thereby stopping all negotiation. A true trust will need to do develop between all the parties involved, that reasonable targets will be matched with reasonable resources. In organisations where in the past both targets and resources were mandated without any discussion, this is where a major culture clash will need to be overcome. Without this trust, the process is bound to fail.

Conclusions

Starting and deploying Hoshin Kanri in an organisation is not an easy task. Senior leadership will and should be challenged on their ability to paint a clear compelling picture of the future. They will also be challenged to “put their money where their mouth is” and to commit to reasonable resources against reasonable goals. Clear expectations will be the result, but the mutual commitments will also be continuously and seriously tested along the way. It will be a test of culture and trust, not just a “budgeting exercise”.

In a next installment of this blog series, we will go into more detail about the “how” of Hoshin Kanri – in particular, how to formalize the agreements coming out of the catch ball process, and how to track them.

Thanks for reading

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Marc Thys

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