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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: Hoshin and purpose

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Thursday, May 16, 2013 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

It is good to see the growing interest in Hoshin planning. It reflects the struggles many organisations are having in turning lean improvements into business results. But it is a mistake to reach for a new tool without first being clear about the business problems you are trying to solve in doing so.

I first learnt about Hoshin from the outstanding management team at the Nissan plant in Sunderland in the UK that opened in 1986. Over the next few years I watched them struggle to make Hoshin the core of the way they managed and then to teach Hoshin to their suppliers, as Toyota did a few years later. I tried several times to use Hoshin myself but could always think of many more interesting things to do than I had time for and exciting new opportunities were always over the horizon to keep me busy.

So Hoshin is not easy to do without the right capabilities and a clear understanding of purpose. We now have a much better understanding of what it takes to really use Hoshin. Practicing A3 thinking every day is for me the foundation. It changes the way you think about everything. It also opens up a new way of working together effectively, which is the heart of Hoshin. John Shook points out that Hoshin, like A3 thinking, is itself a process involving lots of dialogue and an evolution of thinking and acting over time. In other Lean Edge posts Michael Balle points out that it all starts with grasping the situation at the Gemba and Jeff Liker shows how important it is to have the right Sensei mentoring support to practice problem solving.

But before you start using Hoshin it is worth asking what the business problems are that you are trying to solve. Yes it is about understanding how you could better serve your customers, how you could unblock the flow of value creation they are paying for and what capabilities will be required across the organisation to do so. But it is also about improving the effectiveness of your management system in making all this happen.

A good place to start is by asking yourselves how your managers use their time and how much of their time is spent creating value for the organisation? This is a tricky question because management does not directly create value for customers. It is either necessary and enabling non-value creating work or an expensive waste of time and resources. Three sets of questions shed light on what is really going on.

First how many live projects are there in your organisation? The consequence of Management by Objectives is always too many. We discovered more than 500 live projects in a typical hospital. We have also seen Boards struggle to get the list down into single figures, only for it to creep back up again as each function defends it’s own projects. How many targets are reviewed each month and how much effort goes into compiling and reviewing them? Again the answer is usually several hundred. And adding up the time required to complete that list of talks, how overburdened are your managers? A time budget analysis will certainly reveal this adds up to 150 to 200 per cent of the time available. No wonder managers complain that they don’t have time for additional lean projects. If management could really agree on the vital few actions and have confidence that they would be done, how much management time would this free up that is currently spent on doing unnecessary things?

Second how much management time is spent in long meetings, planning and reviewing initiatives and projects across the organisation? How easy is it to get cross-functional agreement to cooperate on projects? How much management time could be saved by making commitments to action visual and by breaking the work down into small increments of time so deviations from the plan can be reviewed and responded to on a daily or weekly basis?

Third how much management time is spent fire-fighting and dealing with emails? Usually a lot! How much of this time could be saved by spending more time at the Gemba along the value stream helping to establish basic stability, making plan versus actual visible and helping to diagnose and address the causes of these interruptions? It is amazing how the emails and fire-fighting fade away when the work is stable and when there is a clear escalation process to resolve issues quickly.

You might add a further two topics to this analysis. Now you can see how to free up management time what are you going to do with it? Does this for instance allow your managers at every level more time to mentor their subordinates to develop the capabilities across the organisation? Does this also allow managers to spend more time preparing to meet new challenges, leading initiatives to develop new solutions for your customers that steal a march on your competitors?

All these issues need to be surfaced and discussed as you embark on your Hoshin journey. It will not be easy to agree on the vital few, deploy the right projects and create stable value streams. However it will develop a common language and behaviours as well as the necessary cooperation to face the future with confidence.

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