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7 warning signs your Hoshin is stalling

While the reports of the value of Hoshin Kanri are abundant, what are the signs your Hoshin is stalling? Is there a tell-tale sign or is it something you must stay vigilant of throughout your policy deployment? These are seven warning signs to watch.

Written by: James Milsom, Head of Marketing


Hoshin Kanri is revered as one of the most effective strategic frameworks available to organizations across the world, and while there are undoubted success stories with the likes of Xerox, success is not guaranteed.

There are many challenges and pitfalls that can await leaders of transformation and strategy, as with any theory, framework, or approach in business, but a pattern of signs can be discovered as you look through those common failings.

Indeed, nothing is guaranteed in life, especially in business, but just how valuable would be a list of failure signals be to a leader?

From too many layers involved in the rollout and insufficient resource ring-fencing to irregular and ineffective communication, read on to discover 7 of the most common warning signs your Hoshin Kanri deployment is failing and why there isn’t one tell-tale sign.


1. Too many organizational layers in your x-matrix

Hoshin Kanri involves a monumental shift in the way that you approach managing your strategy.

From formulation through to implementation, execution and review, it takes complete alignment and commitment from every involved team member to see it through successful execution across three-five years.

There are many a reason why objectives, whether personal or professional, should be kept simple, precise and achievable.

Obviously, Hoshin does revolve around the concept of breakthrough performance, that being setting goals that do necessitate a transformation of existing performance levels, but the key is that you start simple, roll out the plan, and then re-evaluate at annual intervals.

One of the common failings, and signs that you will experience that fate, is when companies attempt to create a Hoshin for every layer of the organization chart.

As covered in our points of impact blog:

“With strategic plans set for three-five-year horizons, annual breakthroughs and improvement priorities set, even with effective implementation you would be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed as to where to begin.” 

Therefore, when setting out on your Hoshin focus on creating the most impact at one level, possibly two, or your organizational structure.

Why? If you attempt to deploy Hoshin beyond that point you’ll make the process overly complex, which is exacerbated by our second sign of failure.


2. Relying on Excel to execute your Hoshin

There is a world of free resources available to your business when it comes to Hoshin deployment, such as these which i-nexus offers:

  1. X-Matrix Excel template and PDF guide
  2. Bowling Chart Excel template and PDF guide
  3. Action Plan Excel template and PDF guide

These are absolutely invaluable templates that are readily available to anyone interested in or beginning their Hoshin journey, but they are just that – introductory resources to practitioners or those who want to demonstrate how policy deployment works.

Where they fall down is their use where there are multiple layers of Hoshin, or moving into the second year, when you’ve created more than a dozen action plans to address your performance slippage, and when you have to consolidate your reporting into PowerPoint packs.

Templates and Excel do not scale to your needs beyond a rudimentary phase of Hoshin Kanri.

As we covered at length in our Hoshin Kanri spreadsheets vs. software blog, there are at least eight disadvantages, the most obvious being:

  1. You want to make changes, but can’t always remember how everything links together or how the formulas work.
  2. You want to extend this downwards in the company, say to individual teams, but the X-Matrix can only hold the department level improvement priorities. So, you create separate spreadsheets for them, but then struggle to manage them together.
  3. A colleague wants to use it in another department, but then you cannot agree a process for keeping the data and process aligned.
  4. You need to include sensitive strategic information, but can’t hide it from wider view.


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3. Employees resisting goals

A large portion of the Hoshin process involves your team.

That is why the catch ball technique, whether it is traditionally or adapted, is the subject of much analysis and indeed application. Because, at its core, it is all about participation in strategy, what was once a behind boardroom door or business retreat activity.

There have been struggles in the past with catch ball, for example with Rover, who could not choose the best route for goal formulation, and thus adapted catch ball with these stages:

  1. Interviewing a small number of key stakeholders from each business unit
  2. Developing initial goals
  3. Surveying across functions to ask what each interviewee believed the goals should be for their areas (but required a vision before any interview would move to how can we bridge a gap between your vision and the desired state)
  4. Results analyzed and fed back into the plan
  5. Workshops then reviewed the plan in a wider sense
  6. A new proposal was made for the plan
  7. This was agreed with each unit owner
  8. Sign off from a central unit (such as a EPMO or Strategy Realization Office) 


But where the process fails is when it is seen as a tick box exercise, or is conducted ad nauseum, where paralysis forms because too many employees have had a say in goal setting.

We, therefore, recommend following the process but adapting as you see fit, being cautious that too little or too many cooks will spoil the broth.


4. Misuse of bowling chart

The Bowling Chart or Targets To Improve dashboard is a Hoshin Kanri tool that is built to review performance based on a traffic light system of green, amber, and red.

It is there to help managers to identify patterns and early warnings that goals or actions won’t be completed on time or to expected levels of performance.

What it does not provide is a visual prompt to punish teams.

If you are present in review meetings and the nature of the conversation shifts towards one that is accusatory or aggressive, you know that the traffic light system is being abused.

The traffic light system can be automated with systems such as i-nexus, sending managers prompts when performance reaches levels where intervention is needed.

This empowers leaders to lead, investigate the causes of the slippage, and put into place a countermeasure action plan to address this.


5. Firefighting is unsustainable

While Hoshin Kanri does dictate forward focus for the business, what happens when operational challenges become insurmountable?

At the heart of Hoshin Kanri is resource. That is why the x-matrix is captivating and visually powerful.

With your x-matrix in place, you are able to view the resource requirements of each top-level improvement priority, with software such as i-nexus allowing you to go a step further and view multiple layers of departments where resources will be pulled.

One of the challenges involved with Hoshin Kanri, and any strategic framework for that matter, is attempting to analyze trends and predict the future.

Perhaps that is to attempt the impossible, but as part of the implementation process, you should be agreeing what financial and human resource is allocated for this transformation.

Operational management continues alongside transformation. That’s why here at i-nexus we talk about Run, Improve and Transform when it comes to managing your business.

Hoshin Kanri does not happen in isolation. You have business as usual activity to complete, continuous improvement to bring daily growth in your areas where you can see wasted effort or resource, all the while Hoshin looks at transforming the business.

If the people who have earmarked for your Hoshin are pulled away for firefighting events on a regular basis, your Hoshin implementation phase has failed.

That’s why you must follow these steps when considering resources for Hoshin:

  1. Establish which resources are required on daily work (business as usual)
  2. Present the resource allocation as investing in improving a process in one year and the moment after that your process becomes standard value delivery. It is not a project.
  3. Identify the people, systems, material and finances which will give you the best chance to deliver your improvement priorities.
  4. The largest sum or most available resources do not necessarily correlate to having the greatest impact
  5. You are seeking the talents, thinkers and doers who are best placed to help you realize a step change in performance this year.
  6. Speak with those managers whose staff you would like to call into the program – remember, Hoshin involves crossing organizational boundaries and challenge existing siloes – be wary of the role of culture here.



If your transformation team is absent more than they are present when it comes to actioning your improvement priorities, that is a flag that must be raised.


6. Data ignored or inaccessible

Data is the currency of success with Hoshin Kanri. However, even if your business avoids using Excel for Hoshin Kanri, there remains the risk that data is ignored or misinterpreted, with personal agendas taking precedented.

Should you find yourself in a management meeting where charts or data are absent, then this is a sign your Hoshin is failing or about to.


Hoshin is built around data. The x-matrix looks to share information around targets, actions, resources, and more. The Bowling Chart measures the success of your improvement priorities. The action plan is a data-rich sheet that addresses how you will achieve your targets.

Perhaps the problem originates from a lack of understanding of Hoshin. In which case, this can be addressed through Hoshin consultants, of which many exist.

Or it could be that data is not easily accessible, or indeed cannot be presented in an easily digestible manner. Without strategic planning and execution software such as i-nexus, you will be unable to get the most out of this data.

In any case, your meetings should revolve around the performance of the plan, slippage, and agreeing on the steps to correct course. Do not let the conversation become one where the vocal few argue over which initiatives are the most valuable.


7. Learning culture isn't present

The final cause for concern in your Hoshin Kanri deployment is where your failures are not turned into successes because there is an absence of learning culture.

While Hoshin Kanri is not continuous improvement, it does take inspiration from that world in so far as it can only thrive in an environment where data is collected, analyzed, and a course correction mechanism, typically a countermeasure action plan helps the performance to return to expected levels.

Indeed, without carefully defined goals, forged through participation, and a meaningful implementation plan, Hoshin will struggle to get out of the starting blocks, but it is the company’s culture that plays a supporting role in maintaining momentum.

If your business is not interested in performing root cause analysis then slippages or missed targets will remain just that. The very fabric of Hoshin is to set targets that are unimaginable, stretching every involved resource in reaching levels previously undreamt.

Should you find yourself in a situation where missed goals are only questioned on the surface level, and no actions were taken prior to rectifying the issue, you undoubtedly have a sign of Hoshin stalling.


Honorable mentions

These signs didn’t make our list of top signals, but you and your team should remain vigilant of their creeping presence:

  1. Too much time spent administrating after year one, without software, too much time is spent on consolidating data into presentations and PDF reports.
  2. Change of leadership – meaning that Hoshin is no longer favored.
  3. Regular communication breaks down - roadshows, Teams meetings, reports of action, successes, and failures cease to be communicated.
  4. Rigid application – the Hoshin process is followed at the expense of operational realities, e.g. COVID-19.


Is there a tell-tale sign?

That remains the question to be answered here.

We would err on the side of experience, meaning that seldom is there one reason which you should pay attention to when it comes to your deployment struggling.

When you take the above as a checklist of signals to be wary of, and you have the conviction and leadership support to correct deviation from the plan, you can be sure that you are using best endeavors to keep your business’ Hoshin Kanri on course.

And, after all, if you are to reach your True North you cannot expect smooth sailing. Prepare for challenges and you will prevail.


Learn more about Hoshin Kanri

Click here to learn more about the Japanese Strategy Execution method of Hoshin Kanri – or take a look at these content recommendations:

About the author

James Milsom is Head of Marketing at i-nexus. James has wide-ranging experience in markets such as telecommunications, energy, education, and software.

As Head of Marketing, his drive is to raise awareness and understanding of the challenges facing enterprises in delivering strategic objectives and transformation amidst changing markets and the obstacles traditional tools and methods present leaders.

If you’d like to talk more about Strategy Execution, reach out to James on james.milsom@i-nexus.com or connect with him on LinkedIn for the latest insights.