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Fire Fighter Matt Chesin On Unsplash 810

A Crisis is the Best Time for Hoshin Kanri

April 8, 2020
You need a plan before you rush into the fire. Hoshin kanri is your plan.

There’s not a business around that hasn’t had its FY20 strategic plans tossed into the dumpster because of the COVID-19 virus. As Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face.” And that’s why we need hoshin kanri more than ever.

Hoshin kanri, usually translated as “policy deployment” or “strategy deployment,” was developed by Toyota as a way to focus its efforts on just a few critical goals each year. But hoshin is often misunderstood as a form of strategic planning. It’s not. It’s a tool for execution.

Done properly, hoshin translates strategic objectives into concrete plans at each level of an organization. It creates both horizontal alignment among functional silos, and an interlocking cascade of goals, projects, and tasks vertically within each silo.

In my consulting work, I’ve seen business unit managers unable to achieve the market share goals mandated by the CEO because they couldn’t get the IT support for new product development software; finance and HR support to hire the necessary material scientists; and operations support to rapidly qualify new suppliers. That kind of failure wouldn’t happen with a company utilizing hoshin. Hoshin clarifies those needs at the beginning of the year and ensures that those internal resources are aligned.

Now that companies are in COVID-induced chaos, the need for the kind of operational focus that hoshin provides is even more urgent. Without that focus, organizations risk overwhelming employees with the new demands imposed upon them by the crisis. As an example, the entire IT admin support team at a telecom company has been in seven hours of videoconference calls every day for the last three weeks, trying to get their 150,000 workers set up to work remotely. Forget about the other projects on their strategic plan—this is the only thing they have time for.

But of course, that’s not quite true. Somehow, they have to make time for the blocking and tackling that forms the bulk of their regular day jobs. And there are projects that really do need to get done—for example, prepping for their eventual 5G rollout is non-negotiable as well.

This is where the value of hoshin comes in. It provides three important benefits:

1. Culling the herd. Most organizations start far more projects than they can successfully execute—their corporate eyes are far bigger than their stomachs. Hoshin teaches companies how to winnow down the list of projects intelligently and efficiently. Companies desperately need that skill now.

2. Alignment. As mentioned earlier, hoshin ensures both vertical and horizontal alignment and coordination within the company. When a huge percentage of a company’s employees have to work differently, or have to take on different jobs, that coordination isn’t just nice to have; it’s essential. Hoshin formalizes the process to make that happen.

3. Avoiding overload. There’s no doubt that the coronavirus crisis will dramatically increase the burden on many employees. But it’s critical that the health and welfare of these employees aren’t sacrificed on the altar of crisis response. Hoshin creates and opens up the channels of communication among all levels of an organization, from the front line to the C-suite, that help prevent the total overload of those workers.

It’s tempting during a time of crisis to put on firefighters’ gear and sprint to the inferno as quickly as possible. But even firefighters have a plan before they get to the blaze—they don’t just wildly spray water and randomly run into the building.

You need a plan before you rush into the fire—or before you send your team into the fire. Hoshin kanri is your plan. Now, more than ever.

Dan Markovitz is a Shingo prize-winning author, speaker, and consultant who helps companies accelerate their lean journeys. You can reach him at or @danmarkovitz.

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