Strategic commentary

Strategy Deployment, Hoshin Kanri and Lean: The promised land


Would or could Hoshin Kanri replace Lean? With Breakthrough Objectives, Annual Goals and eventual Improvement Priorities Hoshin Kanri and Lean will at some point meet, and it truly will be the promised land for your strategy deployment, as Christian Loyer tells all.

In my interactions with strategy and Lean practitioners over the last 18 months, one concept has been floating in my head a lot. It was initially a vague thought but it became clearer when I was presenting a Strategy Execution Masterclass at one of our breakfast events when an attendee raised their voice and asked how Lean and Hoshin Kanri can cohabit together.

The question developed into “Would or could Hoshin Kanri replace Lean?”.

After all, if you cascade your Breakthrough Objectives into Annual Goals, the natural next step is to identify Improvement Priorities. Aren’t Lean activities Improvement Priorities?

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It’s one of those questions I love. In front of an audience, it would be easy to crash and burn at such a question, because you don’t have an answer for it. But, just like the catchball process in Hoshin Kanri, I like to catch the ball (the question in this case), play with it a bit then throw it back to the audience. And I did just that. We threw the ball at each other a few times.

We basically paused and thought about this question together and eventually I went to the flip chart and tried to capture the thinking we were developing together as a group.

The image on the flip chart remained simple, but we all agreed on the concept and I made a mental note to develop it further.

What did we agree collectively? Well, let’s start by looking at what Lean is and then Hoshin Kanri as this will help us answer that very question.

What is Lean?

The word Lean in relation to business activities was first coined by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones in the 1990 book “The Machine that Changed the World”.

Womack, from MIT and Jones, from Cardiff University, were working together in the International Motor Vehicle Program and wanted to know why and how Toyota became so efficient in their production process.

It is in that book that they named the Toyota Production System a Lean Production system… Readers wanted to know more about the details behind Lean and asked Jones and Womack to expand further on the subject. 6 years later “Lean Thinking” was born.

Without trying to cover what Lean is in this post (to achieve that, your best go-to book is definitely “Lean Thinking”), let’s summarise Lean as a

“method which creates an efficient process flow by eliminating non-value adding activities (muda).”

In order to eliminate waste, you look out for TIM WOOD, or the 7 types of waste:

  1. Transportation
  2. Inventory
  3. Motion
  4. Waiting
  5. Over Processing (too difficult)
  6. Overproduction (too much or too soon)
  7. Defects

This waste is identified on the workshop floor, by a team of trained employees and their leaders in what each type of waste entails.

Kaizen workshops, Gemba Walks, ad hoc identification and removal of waste: any opportunity is a good opportunity to eliminate waste every time we see it.

In that sense, Lean is definitely “Bottom-Up” and here is the controversial bit we all agreed on: it does not need strategic intent to be achieved! After all, deciding to put the fridge in the kitchen rather than in your garage just makes sense whatever the strategy or mission of your household is…right?

What is Hoshin Kanri?, in my view, summarises Hoshin Kanri very well:

“Hoshin Kanri (also called Policy Deployment) is a method for ensuring that the strategic goals of a company drive progress and action at every level within that company. This eliminates the waste that comes from inconsistent direction and poor communication.

Hoshin Kanri strives to get every employee pulling in the same direction at the same time. It achieves this by aligning the goals of the company (Strategy) with the plans of middle management (Tactics) and the work performed by all employees (Operations).”

It is very clear from that definition that Hoshin Kanri is “Top-Down”.

It must start with a vision, often referred as True North in Hoshin Kanri (and in other methodologies you may find variants) and is then broken down into 3-5 years Breakthrough Objectives by the C-suite of an organisation.

A catchball process follows where the top management and middle management agrees on how those Breakthrough Objectives will be achieved, thus creating Annual Goals. Goals are nothing without concrete actions, however, and so the next step is then to identify Improvement Priorities.

The promised land: Where Hoshin Kanri meets Lean thinking

And boom! Suddenly it made sense to us: Hoshin Kanri and Lean will at some point meet, right in the middle between the Top-Down Hoshin Kanri and the Bottom-Up Lean, as seen below.

hoshin strategy execution software drilldown screenshot 2

As Lean’s “raison d’être” is the elimination of waste, one can confidently carry on Lean activities, being it reduction of waste, Lean tools like 5S, Standard Work, Gemba Walks, Kaizens or more advanced tools like SMED or OEE.

Whatever the strategy, reduction of waste will only be more beneficial to an organisation.

I was on a train back from London when I decided to develop the flip chart image we had created in Berlin. It’s not a professional image by any means, I just opened my Inspiron laptop and put it into tablet format and started drawing.

It is when I was drawing the red and blue arrows that the words “PROMISED LAND” came to mind… Because if you do manage to have a strong Lean program in place, together with a strong strategy deployment process, the two will meet in the middle and you will most definitely walk into the promised land!

Itching to learn more?

We have a wealth of resources freely available to digest, all designed to help you achieve your strategic goals. We’ve hand-picked the below to set you on the right track:

About the author

Christian is i-nexus’ Head of Partner Development. With a rich background in the industry, today he uses his 20 years experience to make things more digital for our clients. He helps them to get away from the heavy lifting of executing strategy, managing projects and following-up on KPIs with spreadsheets, PowerPoints and SharePoint sites. With i-nexus he supports corporations in better executing their strategy, whether they use Hoshin Kanri, OGSM, OKR or any other methodology.

If you’d like to talk more about your strategic challenges, reach out to Christian on or connect with Christian on LinkedIn for more strategic insights.