Hoshin Kanri: Translating “Big Vision” from Strategy to Execution


Rick Edgeman, Research Director

Shingo Institute, Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, Utah State University


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 Part 1: Hoshin Kanri - Concept Origins

Published March 1, 2016


Prior to World War II, the U.S. share of the world export market was approximately 30%. In the aftermath of World War II that share grew to more than 70% - a result of a generally healthy and educated workforce, as well as a U.S. infrastructure that remained largely untouched by the war. In contrast, many European and Asian nations were left to deal with infrastructure devastation and human tragedy alike, often with less educated workforces using antiquated equipment.


Given that context, American manufacturers were generally able to sell all that they were able to manufacture, whether that produced was of superior, average, or inferior quality. It is simple, but inaccurate to assume – especially when basking in the afterglow of World War II victory – that American superiority was responsible for this growth in market share and consequent relative prosperity.


Relatively unnoticed was the role played by instruction in and active spread of quality control methods in American industry during World War II by such luminaries as W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran, as well as other, usually uncredited individuals. Those methods proved fundamental to, for example, production of superior quality military equipment such as tanks. This is not, of course, intended to imply that quality control methods were solely responsible for allied victory in World War II, but only that these were an important factor.


After World War II, many of those Americans trained in quality control methods (women) left the workforce and returned to the home. Over the next decades, many of the lessons learned were lost. This was one of at least two things happening concurrently with the other being that the same “quality gurus” largely responsible for teaching quality methods to approximately 30,000 members of America’s World War II workforce began out of empathy for the plight of the Japanese people to teach those same methods in Japan, with the belief that those methods could significantly aid the long climb Japan would need to make from the devastation of World War II.


What Deming, Juran and others found in Japan was a highly talented, highly motivated collection of business and engineering leaders who embraced these methods with near “tent revival” zeal, and who not only widely and expertly adapted and deployed these methods, but who added new and highly pragmatic approaches. This was done with the sort of efficiency that extreme resource scarcity can motivate, augmented by the effectiveness that dedication to precision births. Just as Deming, Juran, Armand Feigenbaum, Philip Crosby, H. James Harrington, Walter Shewhart and other American quality luminaries wielded significant influence, a new constellation of Japanese “quality stars” arose, the names and developments of whom have been and remain integral to contemporary expressions of quality in its many forms that include, but are not limited to, lean enterprise methods and six sigma – individuals such as Shigeo Shingo and single minute exchange of die (SMED or quick changeover); Taiichi Ohno and the Toyota Production System (TPS) that resides at the heart of the lean manufacturing movement; Masaaki Imai and kaizen (continuous improvement); Kauro Ishikawa and cause-and-effect diagrams; Yoji Akao and quality function deployment; Genichi Taguchi and robust product design; Noriaki Kano and the customer needs model; and hoshin kanri – the development of which is not attributed to any single individual, but rather the first use of the term appears to have originated at Japan’s Bridgestone Tire company in 1965 (Watson, 2003).


This combination of zeal, expertise, methodological innovation and application, and relentless pursuit of perfection began to have an effect on the American share of the world export market – one that was scarcely noticed until American manufacturers surrendered consumer electronics and automotive markets to Japanese manufacturers – victims not only of Japanese drive and ingenuity, but of their own arrogance and a sense that it was “impossible” for anyone else to out-perform, out-create, or out-innovate American enterprises. The result of this was that by 1990 the U.S. share of the world export market had fallen to its pre-World War II level of about 30%. Today that share ranges between 10% and 15%, and the U.S. has become the world’s greatest debtor nation.


Much has been and continues to be written about the “Japanese miracle,” though some of the sheen has dimmed as Japan’s economy – like many others – has struggled in recent years. Still, books such as World Class Manufacturing by Schonberger (1986), Kaizen by Imai (1986), The Machine that Changed the World by Jones, Womack and Roos (1990), and numerous others have had significant impact on the way many global enterprises do business. This is especially so in select sectors such as the automotive industry that have embraced lean philosophies and methodologies. Increasingly this is also seen in such sectors as healthcare and banking.


While each of the strategies and methods cited provide value to enterprises using them, we will focus primarily on hoshin kanri, which is essentially an organizing framework that directs enterprise-wide attention to corporate purpose, aligns priorities with local plans, integrates these into daily management and activities, and facilitates enterprise learning and enculturation through routine review (Witcher and Butterworth, 2000).


Part 2: Hoshin Kanri – A Valuable Concept


Roots of Hoshin Kanri may be traced to – at least – A Book of Five Rings written in 1645 by Miyamoto Musashi (Harris, 1982).  This book, the essence of which is captured by the word heiho or strategy, was a resource intended to provide instruction to samurai warriors, including instruction in what is perhaps the quintessential samurai skill – kendo, or precision swordsmanship. Relative to kendo, A Book of Five Rings, asserts that those thoroughly conversant with strategy will recognize the intentions of their enemies and through preparation and recognition will have many opportunities to cultivate and execute strategies capable of thwarting the objectives of their adversaries and positioning themselves to be victorious.


Like heiho, the word hoshin is comprised of two Chinese characters: ho – which means method or form, and shin, which is often translated as “shiny metal – the glint from the spear that leads the way” (Lee and Dale, 1998) or, in a more contemporary form, an aim. When assembled, the word hoshin and can be taken to mean “a methodology for strategic direction setting”. The word kanri is commonly interpreted as “management” so that hoshin kanri becomes “management of the strategic direction setting process”. Given this interpretation, in the West, hoshin kanri is commonly referred to as either policy deployment or strategy deployment or – often – by the East / West hybrid term that we will henceforth use: hoshin planning.


Generally speaking, a given hoshin is mission and vision critical to an enterprise and is stated in terms of a goal or objective – that is, a policy or a strategy – that is intended to elevate associated business processes and outcomes to a target performance level. The underlying structure of hoshin planning implies that it can be applied at essentially any level of the enterprise, ranging from senior executive level to the day-to-day operational level.


Often, a high level (senior executive) hoshin is of such foundational importance to the enterprise that failure to attain or fulfill it within an appropriate timeframe will place the organization at risk. As such, a high level hoshin can be thought of as representing “big (enterprise) vision”. Organizations that practice enterprise level hoshin planning ordinarily have a limited number of hoshins – typically three to five – that must be realized within a specified time span that, in the West, will ordinarily range from one to five years, with specified mileposts and periodic stage gate reviews along the way.


Create Constancy of Purpose 

by Mark Baker

Mark Baker will be teaching the Discover Shingo Model™ Workshop at the 28th International Conference this April

 Published February 3, 2016

When I was a young mechanical engineer at Honda Motor Company, Mr. Honda was still alive and he used to always say, “Unless we have 100% of the people in the organization engaged in making the company better, we will never be able to realize our true potential.” I remember hearing this for the first time, and over the years I have found it to be a great insight, but the real question now is how is this achieved? Mr. Honda’s statement hits on two key points of building a successful organization, namely engagement and alignment. Without both of these aspects, success will be hit or miss.

Mistake-Proofing Mistakes

Written by Bruce Hamilton, President, GBMP

Published January 21, 2016

There is a popular lore provided by Shigeo Shingo that the original name for mistake-proofing (poka-yoke) was “fool-proofing” (baka-yoke). Shingo chided managers at Panasonic for using the latter term, as it was disrespectful to workers, essentially calling them fools. Shingo substituted the word “fool” for “mistake,” because, as he aptly noted, making mistakes is part of humanity. “Mistakes are inevitable,” he said, “but the defects that arise from them are not.”

Notwithstanding Mr. Shingo’s admonitions, however, I still hear the term “fool-proofing” used regularly, and occasionally with a little more venom, “idiot-proofing.” No doubt, these derogatory terms, along with others like “screw-up” and its less gentile derivatives, have given a bad name to one of the most energizing, empowering and creative tools from the TPS toolbox. 

Continuous Improvement from Where It Counts

Written by the Shingo Institute Staff

Published December 21, 2015

“What’s the difference between the Shingo Prize® and other similar awards?” It’s one of the questions most frequently asked of the Shingo Institute. The short answer is that it isn’t just a framework for management. The Shingo focus is on organizational culture conducive to having improvements come directly from the mind of every associate at the organization to get measurable, world-class results.

We are not Toyota

Written by Gert Linthout

Published December 2, 2015

Some years ago, we guided a lean transformation project in a regional hospital. The ambition was to drastically improve the experience of patients in the surgical ‘one-day pathway.’ An in-depth patient survey and analysis of the value stream revealed that missing information for the patient and long and unpredictable waiting times were the main drivers for dissatisfaction. A sub-optimal planning and system appeared to be the most important root causes. Although the problems were recognized, quite some resistance existed in the organization to change the current way of working.

As part of the cultural transformation, we took a group of key players (doctors, nurses and managers) to a car manufacturing site. We weren’t there just to observe but mainly to assemble cars together, as a team, in a simulated work environment. We experienced and practiced the principles of teamwork, coaching, leadership, structured problem solving, flow and pull, quality at the source… at the assembly line.

The Taste of Quality

Written by Jose Paredes, UL

Published November 10, 2015

The fall in New England is one of my favorite times of the year. Hues of saffron, paprika and pumpkin speckle the landscape. Combined with the smell of wood-burning fireplaces scenting the crisp night air, and the sound of rustling leaves, it becomes a living masterpiece. When I am not traveling for work, one of my passions is cooking. I am a native of Nicaragua, and have adapted to cooking with whatever ingredients are around me, because I find that the best end-result starts with using the best quality products available.

Process Problems: Hidden Treasures, Part II

Written by Randy Cook and Alison Jenkins, McKinsey & Company

Published October 19, 2015

Most of the leaders we meet pride themselves on their problem-solving ability. But when we watch how they work, we often see them behaving instinctively rather than following a rigorous problem-solving approach. All too often they fail to define the real problem, rely on instinct rather than facts, and jump to conclusions rather than stepping back and asking questions. They fall into the trap of confusing decisiveness with problem solving and rush into action instead of taking time to reflect.