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Applying Hoshin Kanri at Toyota

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Toyota uses Hoshin Kanri to give direction on where they want to improve using Lean IT. Employees at various levels can exchange ideas about Hoshin items, and potentially get them approved by higher management. This approach makes results stronger and increases buy-in from the employees who contribute upfront.

Pierre Masai, VP & CIO of Toyota Motor Europe, spoke about Hoshin Kanri at Toyota at the Lean IT Summit 2017. InfoQ is covering this conference with Q&As, summaries and articles.

Masai started his talk by defining what Hoshin is and how to position it in the cultural and lean IT context. Translated from Japanese, "Hoshin Kanri" means "compass management". You can use Hoshin to give direction on where you want to go to, said Masai, where the aim is to do the right things. He stated his definition of Lean IT, which is to "do the right things right".

You may have to explain Hoshin differently depending on the culture, said Masai. People coming from different cultures will have different ideas on what "normal behaviour" is. He gave the example of people's punctuality when arriving for a meeting. In some cultures, people might arrive an hour in advance, or 15 minutes in advance, while others would arrive exactly on the planned time, or even a couple of minutes late. Depending on their culture, they would all consider themselves "on time".

InfoQ interviewed Pierre Masai about how Toyota applies Hoshin Kanri and its benefits, and asked him about the so-called Lean 2040 Hoshin Kanri initiative.

InfoQ: How did you apply Hoshin Kanri at Toyota, and what benefits did it bring?

Pierre Masai: Hoshin Kanri has been applied at Toyota since the sixties. The reason why we developed an online collaborative tool called eHoshin is that we had a theoretical process called "catch ball" where employees at various levels could exchange their ideas about Hoshin items, and potentially get them approved by higher management, but this process was not easy to practically organize, especially when different geographical locations and cultures were involved. I felt that some members of the team could have very good ideas, but did not get an easy opportunity to share them and get listened to. With eHoshin, all employees of IS (and later other departments of the company) can contribute with their ideas. The tool does not replace the Hoshin process; it supports it and makes the result stronger, and increases buy-in from the employees who contributed upfront. The comments of employees allow us to know who is interested in which subject during the Hoshin deployment phase, and be more quickly operational with the teams who will actually implement the Hoshin items.

InfoQ: What have you learned along the way?

Masai: That participation of employees does not happen automatically, and that it is culture dependent. In more "top down" cultures for instance, a message from the top helps to increase employee participation. Also, feedback of management to each contributing member of what became of their idea is critical to success: if I propose an item which is discarded, and nobody ever tells me why, I am less likely to participate next time. However, the explanation itself is an opportunity for coaching: maybe the item is handled by a different team, at a different level, or will be implemented in the future because of different priorities this year; such things can also be explained at this occasion.

InfoQ: You have started a Hoshin Kanri initiative called Lean 2040. What is it, and how can people participate?

Masai: We have built the eHoshin application (first version) as an open source application that anybody can access by going to and following the link. There, you can create your own userid and become a user of the open eHoshin application (please try it, and if you are an IT person and think of improving the open source version, please contribute on github). Then, you can either create your own private Hoshin (password protected) – you can use it for the preparation of the wedding of your daughter/son, for the direction of your NGO or for the direction of your company or function within the company. You can also create or contribute to public Hoshin topics.

One example of a public Hoshin that I created is called Lean2040. The idea of this one is for the global Lean community to give their ideas about what the direction of the Lean movement for the next 25 years should be ("The Machine That Changed the Word" was published in 1990 and made the term "Lean" popular in the west. In 2015, the 25th anniversary of the book was celebrated and the authors Jim Womack and Dan Jones wondered what the future of this movement for the next 25 years could be). I proposed to contribute to this by creating this Hoshin.

Without active moderation, it is not easy to get momentum on this kind of initiative from a global group like the Lean Movement which is not precisely defined, a topic we already discussed with lean leaders at the Lean Summit UK in November 2016, where contradicting opinions were discussed. Based on this discussion, I reinforced the message at this Lean IT Summit, and believe that, similar to the IT Open Source communities, there can be a "self-created" momentum around such public Hoshin initiatives, supported by the contributions to the open source code continuously improving the eHoshin application itself.

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