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8 challenges with adopting Hoshin Kanri

From misaligned goals and projects to overcoming fear of failure, these are the common pitfalls to be wary of during your Hoshin strategy deployment

Written by: James Milsom, Head of Marketing


Hoshin Kanri has been a staple in strategic management theory for close to 75 years, and has been adopted and refined by some of the world’s biggest companies, but their implementation is not without lessons to be learned.

Hoshin Kanri provides a clear roadmap to where your business wants to be in a defined period and is well regarded for its ability to bring structure, clarity and accountability to not only strategic planning, but Strategy Execution.

Today we’re looking at 8 challenges that you may face when deploying your strategy through the Hoshin Kanri methodology, all in aid to help you prepare for the operational realities of the process.

1) Your goals and projects are misaligned

When we keep in mind the words of great strategists like Sun Tsu, we appreciate that, on its own, a strategy is nothing more than a direction of travel.

It is crucial that there is a shared vision of what needs to be achieved. This must go hand in hand with the engagement in terms of defining the what and how. Combined, this is where we find passion and fulfillment from our work.

Case in point, organizations have struggled in their initial deployment due to the proposed team defining the goals being greatly disconnected from the teams making the strategy an operational reality.

To overcome this challenge, businesses have designed a slight variation of the Catchball Process, in turn aligning goals and projects in a way that it would never have under the original deployment.


2) The 7 steps of Hoshin do not include a situational assessment

While there are 7 well defined steps to Hoshin Kanri, critiques of Hoshin Kanri have ventured as far as to address that the process does not cover a situational assessment.

Classic strategic approaches such as PR Smith’s SOSTAC (Situation, Objectives, Strategy, Tactics, Action, Control) model incorporates a situational assessment at the beginning of the process, but, to the critic’s point, there is no situational assessment explicitly mentioned in Hoshin.

However, a situational assessment is implied, regardless of the methodology. A strategy needs a situational assessment.

Whether that is your direct/indirect competition, or employing something like a VRIO (Value, Rareness, Imitability, Organization) analysis to gauge your internal resource’s value, you must know your current standing before plotting out a path to change.

This, therefore, is not a challenge when we accept that a situational assessment will always be conducted, regardless the strategic framework, but more a reminder that Hoshin is a part of an integrated approach to Strategy Execution.


3) Hoshin Kanri cannot overcome fear

This is a challenge that looks towards those that conduct the 7 steps of Hoshin, and asks everyone in your organization to embrace Hoshin, the process and reap the benefits of the approach.

That means we, as individuals, must overcome fear of:

  • Accountability
    Top-down, bottom-up, across divisions, groups and complex structures, your entire business must accept that results come from unity and accountability.

    It isn’t enough to cascade goals, you must cascade accountability.

  • Failure
    From a young age we are taught of the idea of success and failure.

    In fact, it defines our education, sport, business and much more. 

    In many companies, failure to meet target is career limiting. In Hoshin, it is considered a learning opportunity – unmet targets need countermeasures, not criticism.

    It takes considerable senior leadership to build a culture of trust in an organization that is rife with fear of failure.

  • Change
    Hoshin Kanri is often met with a resounding level of enthusiasm.

    In fact, the idea of change is embraced, the initial results are encouraging, but then one of two things happen.

    Firstly, operational demands take their toll, with projects no longer being aligned to the strategy, or a seismic shift in the environment adjusts priorities.

    Alternatively, the first- and second-year cycles were a success, but the limitations of using templates and Microsoft Office rears their head, and the administrative burden of Hoshin becomes too much.

    In both cases, the immediate positives and change are thrown to the wayside. In each case it is crucial to look at adopting software to eliminate this risk.


4) Hoshin Kanri is not an automatic success

Hoshin Kanri, by its very nature, is a learning process. Failure is embraced, change is the norm, and it is about the journey, not entirely the destination.

The path with Hoshin Kanri begins by understanding the Hoshin process, but can extend as far as adopting the methodology into your own, as Xerox has.

Hoshin Kanri does not automatically happen. Instead, be pragmatic about Hoshin Kanri and look at the core challenges your business faces, and how Hoshin can help, such as in these instances:

  • Focus
    If your biggest pain point is focus, using the Hoshin methodology to narrow down your strategic choices is a great starting point.

  • Goals
    If your organization is poor at setting measurable targets, Hoshin provides a framework to develop these.

  • Confidence
    Many of the organizations start with leading measures around their plans, such as milestones achieved, to build confidence around targets.

  • Alignment
    If you are struggling to create alignment around a plan of action, the Hoshin catchball process may be the best place to start.

    Bringing teams together for short sharp workshops around Breakthrough or Annual Objectives can create motivation and momentum to overcome resistance.

  • Momentum
    If you have a good plan but your team loses focus after launch, the Plan-Do-Check-Act review process is a good way to change the culture around execution.

However, the onus is on you to begin the process.

Start with our Hoshin Kanri content hub to find templates, how-to-guide, case studies, webinars and much more to overcome this challenge.

5) Hoshin Kanri does not create a culture of success

Hoshin Kanri necessitates that your organization is prepared to be open with its processes, metric capture and performance reporting – all in aid of constantly improving. However, all too often tribalism can be a core challenge.

Through catchball, the Bowling Chart and A3 reports your business will be able to take the defined goals and projects and narrate how these combine for the common good of the organization (your strategy).

You must, therefore, employ communication methods such as cross departmental meetings to be transparent about how each area of the business is acting, their goals and how they interact with other areas.

More bluntly, it means that every person can see how they can help or may hinder the achievement of the business’ goals.


Honorable mentions

Whilst these have been 5 common challenges of Hoshin Kanri, as we evolve and learn more about Hoshin we hear more obstacles, including these honorable mentions:

  1. Executives and leaders are disconnected - If executives define the direction of travel and senior leaders do not agree, or effectively cascade this from the start, the Hoshin process will falter.
  2. Ineffective facilitation and supporting workshops - These will leave Hoshin stuck in the starting blocks, as Megan James explains.
  3. Hoshin Kanri will neatly arrange your projects - Hoshin is about improving the quality of key breakthrough initiatives that will feed success, it will not automatically align all projects to goals, as Wes Waldo covers in Industry Week.


Continue learning about Hoshin Kanri

Click here for further information on Hoshin Kanri or continue your journey with these recommendations:

About the author

James is i-nexus’ Head of Marketing. Bringing a passion for strategy from a marketing angle, you’ll find he loves to intertwine sports and strategy. His background covers industries such as energy, broadband, education and employee benefits.

If you’d like to talk more about your strategic challenges, reach out to James on james.milsom@i-nexus.com or connect with James on LinkedIn for more strategic insights.