What's wrong with the Lean methodology

Hoshin Kanri misunderstood

In the first years of Lean Management activities in a company, clear successes can always be seen. If you bring structures and a certain logic into a disordered state (e.g. 5S, rules for planning, visualizations), improvements are logically immediately recognizable and also measurable. But after a few years the disillusionment often follows, because you get the feeling of treading on the spot, even though you do so many workshops, diligently introduce lean methods and intensively eliminate waste through “Gemba walks”. In some companies, the “lean implementation” is even “measured” through audits. Nevertheless, there is no discernible improvement in the overall corporate result.


But why is that?

At some point the point will be reached at which improvements in one area even damage the overall process, i.e. the overall value stream. A local improvement often results in a disadvantage for another area of ​​the value stream.

This shows that the right culture did not emerge, everything got stuck at the method level. The managers still think in terms of local cost structures and personal targets. There is a lack of a holistic understanding, a customer-oriented way of thinking in value streams. The Hoshin Kanri approach can help here, provided you do it right. Here, too, many get stuck in the method trap. Hoshin Kanri is by no means a method for a structured development of goals or a policy deployment, it is just like the Kaizen a culture, a way of thinking.

It's about a holistic approach to corporate development.

In addition to the understanding of the current and target state, Hoshin Kanri also includes the comprehensive cooperation of all managers and employees. This is described in the Hoshin Kanri as the “catchball principle” and “Nemawashi”. Therefore, Hoshin Kanri can never take place once or twice a year when the usual target agreement meetings are in progress. Rather, it is a never-ending process that primarily takes place in the minds of all managers and employees and is externally visible in the form of communication routines.

If you actually live the Hoshin Kanri, you automatically leave the focus on your own key figure world and your own cost center. If you ask department heads in companies whether they would be willing to accept higher costs in their area of ​​responsibility, if they know that it makes sense for the entire company, the answer is usually a clear “no”. And that is understandable, because a department head would have to justify himself for higher costs in the so often usual "Q-K-Z" rounds. The derivation of goals by top management often focuses on pure symptoms, expressed in local key figures.

There is a lack of overarching understanding that enables all departments and top management to move in a common direction and thus to develop the entire company and all departments uniformly towards a common goal. This can only work if everyone in the company has the same understanding of customers and thinks in terms of value streams with a clear customer focus.

But this approach contradicts the usual intensification systems, in which an individual target agreement is applied in the belief that employees are better motivated with it. But the opposite is the case.

Individual target agreements lead to competitive thinking and thus a move away from a common understanding of the customer. A holistic entrepreneurial improvement is impossible if everyone optimizes their own area of ​​responsibility ("silo thinking"). Customers expect the complete product or service and not just a part of it.

In most cases, Hoshin Kanri is used incorrectly and ambiguously and is of no use if the right mindset and culture are not actively exemplified as a manager. Hoshin Kanri, like Kaizen or “Lean”, is nothing more than an empty phrase reduced to pure methods.