Book Review: The Basics of Hoshin Kanri

The Basics of Hoshin KanriThe Basics of Hoshin Kanri‘ is a curious book. This doesn’t mean it’s bad – far from it – but it is a book of two halves.

Hoshin Kanri is the management system that usually underpins Lean services. It developed in Japan in the late 50’s and early 60’s, and Bridgestone Tyres described the system in detail in the mid-1960’s. Many companies use variants of it. Komatsu have a long-standing version, and the principles are widely used by many companies.

The main features of the system are that activities are aligned with strategic aims; that there is usually a focus on a few big objectives at any one time, often called ‘Hoshin’ or ‘breakthrough’ objectives; staff are involved in the planning, and in setting objectives, in a phase known as ‘catchball’ and objectives, and actions, work their way down to the team and individual level, still aligned with the original priorities. The system is often taken to include a component known as ‘daily management’, which includes maintaining standard work, identifying problems, and developing improvements. The whole thing works on a series of PDSA / PDCA cycles.

Randy Kesterson clearly knows a lot about Hoshin Kanri. His book breaks in to two main sections: a description of the process as applied to a company new to the method, and a section of interviews with experts on the method, divided in to themes. These two main sections are then followed by three appendices on methods (the differences between hoshin and traditional management, the use of relationship diagrams, and a section on the X-Matrix and A3).

It is this structure that makes it an interesting book, but a tricky one to review. The opening section on applying Hoshin Kanri in a new situation is well done. It takes the principles and applies them in a sensible and pragmatic way, built around an imaginary series of working lunches in a company new to the method, and who want to get started. The descriptions are clear, and the language is appropriate to people who have not come across the concept before, or have heard of it, but do not yet know a great deal about it. I would be happy to hand it to someone as an introduction.

The second section, of thematic extracts from interviews with experts, is also well executed. It is not clear to me, however, that the market for it is the same as the first section. It will have made sense when it was planned: Kesterson is trying to expose readers to ideas from leading thinkers on the method, and from people with experience of using it in practice. There are a lot of concepts in these interviews that, while present in the introductory example, would benefit from more explanation. I could envisage using this interview section with a reading group on Lean that was looking at Hoshin Kanri, but it does feel like a step up from the first section in terms of technical experience.

The appendices bridge the gap to an extent, by providing information on some of the methods mentioned in the interview extracts. Despite this, it felt to me like a book that would have benefited from a section expanding on the opening example, before the dive in to the interview section.

As I noted at the start, this is a good book, but I felt it might struggle to find an audience because of the range of topics it covers. I enjoyed it, and I’m pleased I have read it, but I would be delighted to come across a longer book on Hoshin Kanri by Kesterson, that spanned the gaps in this volume. Kesterson obviously knows his stuff, and I hope he writes it – he can count me down as one customer.

If you have never come across the method before, the book is worth a look to read the opening chapters. I’d be tempted to then set it aside to read the interview section after some more research on the method, or to use the interview section as a springboard in to some of the other descriptions of Hoshin Kanri in practice.

Photo courtesy of Productivity Press

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Basics of Hoshin Kanri

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