Assuming that project is a temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed Business Case1 why project managers take only lessons learned from other projects and not from organizations? What a project manager can learn from a manager? How to make project team a team, working towards common vision, and common goal? Well, give them a compass.

Hoshin Kanri – Japanese compasses since 1950?

Hoshin Kanri is not a japanese compass manufacturer. It is a tool developed in 1950s by professor Yoji Akao2. He believed that people can bring emergent value if they understand the goal and direction in which the company wants to develop. From the technical side, it is a chart with 5 main parts (see Figure 1). All starts with the middle box where the vision or mission of the company is located. 

Please note, there is a difference between vision and mission – vision is focused on future, while mission is focused on present. Mission defines what we need to do, and vision defines where we want to get. Therefore, one should have both, mission and vision, and using those in Hoshin Kanri tool depends on the result we want to get. For the project I would advise to use mission statement, but let’s go back to the tool.

Once project manager understands the mission of project he or she should communicate it to the team. I think we all agree on that. The question is, if everyone knows what should be achieved, does everyone really know how to do it? How often PM should remind team about the project goal, or mission if you will? Those answers can be found in Hoshin Kanri. 

After filling the center box we can move to the bottom of the chart where one should list main objectives for the project – key outcomes the project ought to bring. Once this is done, on left hand side one should list all outputs. Next, on top of the chart one need to put workstream goals that will impact the outputs the most. Finally, on the right hand side one still have place to put PMs’ favourite thing – KPIs. The last point is to fill the blank spots to determine which outputs corresponds to which outcomes, deliverables and KPIs. 

Starting with Why!

One speaker became really well-known with this statement but as it turns out it was already known by Japanese for over half of the century. Nevertheless, as the tool starts with why, meaning project or organization mission, I should also tell you why bother using the tool. 

A goal of the project is well known and understood at any time by anyone. It is enough to set the Hoshin Kanri in common location and everyone can reach for it at any time. Set it as a SharePoint front page and your communication will be almost permanent. This way the communication type will change from push to pull, so that everyone can reach to it whenever they need. 

Builds tactics for strategy. As you need to link outputs, outcomes and KPIs to objectives, one needs to understand the interconnections. This allows every team member to understand how his or her work translates to overall project goal. 

Shows current state of your project. Since you translated your target to outcomes, outputs, key deliverables and finally KPIs, you can monitor project contribution to organizational targets as well as project progression in key areas. You can also monitor project alignment to business strategy and this is a very important thing in managing projects successfully. 

It is scalable. If one need to deliver a program, one can build Hoshin Kanri for the program and/or for every project and operational elements of the program. One can even use the tool to assess projects in portfolio and define key projects. 

Helps to motivate and engage people. Since one of the sixteen basic desires is Idealism, or the need to have a goal3, and another is Order, or the need to have a stable organization. Both desires are somewhat addressed with the tool. It shows what is the final goal and it creates an impression of well managed organization. People want to fulfill their desires, so they will self-motivate to do so.

Figure 1. Hoshin Kanri Table Example

Makes prioritization way easier! Since you are able to tell which action will have greater impact for the goal you will make resource allocation in critical moments much faster and easier. And you will have reasons behind it if someone asks!

Builds a common understanding with your client. The tool help to communicate key focus areas with all stakeholders, including client. 

Finding the true North

If you envy on how to build your Hoshin Kanri I have a good news – It takes only seven steps.

  1. Establish the mission in the central box. Usually you should already have it in your project charter as project goal. You may want to tune it to be more SEXY (Shareable, Energizing, X-celling, and Yummy).
  2. Determine the targets on the bottom. What are the project outcomes? How do one want to deliver “the Why”? 
  3. Define key outputs on the left. This is the way one will deliver most value to the customer. 
  4. Cascade outputs to the workstreams on top. What every department, team member or SME needs to deliver to make it happen? 
  5. Monitor and control the KPIs that are described on right. Once the project is in execution it is time for Project Manager to check the project’s health. If previous step was done correctly tool would allow PM to monitor performance of every workstream towards the main goals. Thanks to that PM will always know which workstream needs extra attention.
  6.  Conduct periodical reviews (at least monthly). Check if an implemented change did not shift direction where the project should be going, maybe company’s strategy changed? Review the outcomes, outputs and workstream objectives. If required, adjust and communicate it. 
  7. Do a retrospective, collect lessons learned. Check where project got after a longer period of time (f.e. quarterly, every 6 months, etc.). If progress towards the main outcomes is not sufficient – reassess them or take some actions. Hoshin Kanri is corresponding to PDCA, so one should never forget to check and act!

Orthodox approach do not apply 

Hoshin Kanri is a Lean tool from 1950s where Management by Objectives (MBO) was very popular, therefore orthodox approach will not allow user to be very Agile. However, with some tweaks the tool can be more nimble. It is worth to remember that it is a tool that requires some extra work to get the best results. 

If the tools is implemented effectively, the client have a common interpretation of goals with project team, which ensures better alignment between organizations. It also helps to control better the main contributors to each goal. Hoshin Kanri also aligns project with organization goals.

The tool is quite universal, scalable and functional, therefore it is worth to check it. I strongly believe that one day it may light
a bulb above one’s head and help to find solution to complex project situation. Check it out yourself!

  1. Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2®, 2009 edition, Axelos
  2. Greg Jacobson, The Meaning of Hoshin Kanri: What, Why, and How,
  3. Steven Reiss, Who am I, The 16 Basic Desires That Motivate Our Actions and Define Our Personalities, Ph.D., New York, 2000