FEATURE – This Siemens Group-owned medium-sized manufacturer of electrical low-voltage devices has been experimenting with hoshin kanri. In this article, they share their experience and lessons learned.
Words: Ignacio Martín Marcuello, Oscar Embid Balsells and Alberto Gandia Martinez
At BJC, we turned to hoshin kanri almost naturally, at a time when we were trying to expand the reach of our visual management. It just made sense: we realized we needed to exchange information more effectively between departments and find a better way to manage not just the production area, but the whole organization. We had been experimenting with the application of lean tools and principles for some time (especially in manufacturing, where one of us – Oscar – led the implementation by tapping into his previous experience), which means we had a solid foundation to build on.
Our aim with hoshin was to create a single, shared, and visual tool for our target deployment at management level. We needed a tool that could be implemented in all areas of the business to ensure that the panels at lower levels (shop floor, individual departments, projects, and so on) followed the same approach and remained aligned with business objectives.
We put together a plan and, in full alignment with the corporate office and with the help of our coach Nestor Gavilan of Instituto Lean Management, we kicked off our hoshin efforts. Nestor developed a simplified, very logical version of hoshin that matched our needs: not only was it very much aligned with what we were doing in other areas in terms of indicator development, but it also got rid of the complex matrix that you find in traditional strategy deployment frameworks.
The implementation of hoshin wasn’t difficult per se, but there were a few basic steps that had to be understood. Some people struggled a bit with them, especially those who weren’t used to visual management and didn’t have a culture of data-based measurement in place, but overall, the introduction of the new system went smoothly.
The most time-consuming part was, without a doubt, the definition and selection of KPIs and their related objectives. We knew we had to find an agreement among areas and people on what each indicator meant and on which indicators to pick. We did it as democratically as possible, as a team during work sessions. We wanted to make sure we’d consider everyone’s input.
It didn’t help that Covid-19 hit just when we were starting our hoshin meetings. Suddenly, we had to stop them until we could find a way to recreate that same dynamic online and fully articulate our transition to digital. It took a couple of months. Once we recovered from the shock and adapted the workplace to the new health & safety measures, we decided to rely on a piece of software already in use within our Group – a digital blackboard that turned out to be the perfect platform to host our hoshin boards. Of course, we’d still prefer to be able to be in the same room and meet regularly, but until we can, this works well – because it allows us to continue with the process during the pandemic without giving up our reviews. In hindsight, we were lucky to have started with the “analogical” process: it helped us to understand the full picture before jumping into the digital world.
Something we struggled with in the first few months of hoshin implementation was getting people to understand exactly what they had to talk about during the meetings. We only needed a straight-to-the-point, short explanation of the situation from them, not long and detailed discussions. Therefore, during the last workshop, we decided to define the standard process and the work instructions to use the hoshin board. This way, everybody could remind the team to always go back to the standard in the event of a deviation. It’s clear to us that using hoshin takes some learning and getting used to, and it’s good to see that these days it comes quite naturally to most of us.
We also had to make sure people realized we were gathering data to understand the situation and make things better, not to blame them for problems. We did so by having many conversations, with small groups or even with individuals, until we got them on board. Once they got it and we were able to engage them in the tracking and improvement of KPIs, we saw a huge shift in their mindset – not to mention quite a bit of healthy competition among teams. Now that they don’t feel threatened, most BJC people understand the system.
Lean is fundamentally about respect, which means that as leaders we had to be transparent. Honesty resonates with people: when things go south and you admit it and communicate it clearly, you eliminate their fear of flagging up problems whenever they occur. When you talk about data, there is no space left for interpretation: suddenly, the situation is objectively clear, and everyone sees it the same way. This leads to more effective joint efforts to tackle problems and allows everyone to move in the same direction.
Indeed, hoshin became a meeting point for us, an opportunity to quickly make the whole organization aware of the latest happenings and problems in the different departments. It gave every person at BJC visibility of the current state and of how the organization is doing against its strategy. That’s what respect is about.
And as for Covid, having hoshin in place allowed us to overcome the challenges the pandemic presented us with – the shutdown during lockdown, the peak of work that followed, and the current shortage of material and components.
HOW HOSHIN CHANGED BJC
The use of daily, visual indicators shared across several areas (not just manufacturing) completely changed the way we communicate on site. Prior to their introduction, we could discuss a topic for 15 minutes and everyone still left the meeting with a different idea. Now, within a couple of minutes we all have a clear picture of the situation and the same information. There are less misunderstandings and more transparency. Simply put, we are all on the same page now.
Thanks to hoshin, we have been able to align the entire business around common goals, connecting business objectives with front-line objectives. The contribution of each person working here to the overall strategy is now clear, as are the reasons behind the decisions we make. The actions we take are no longer seen as a result of management decisions, but a logical next step stemming from the fact that we identify the way forward together – because we all work together on identifying the countermeasures to our problems. Hoshin is an impressive enabler of two-way communication!
With the uncertainty Covid has caused (spikes in the cost of components, lockdowns, drops and surges in demand, and so on), being more coordinated has been critical to keep BJC successful.
Still, we are only just making our first steps with hoshin. There are many things we need to improve, especially at management level, from the integration of A3 Thinking (which we had introduced a few months prior) with the boards to the adjustment of KPIs. Our next steps will be to, first of all, clearly link the objectives and KPIs on the shop floor boards with our hoshin and, secondly, introduce and standardize the use of these boards to all areas and projects.
As we see it, hoshin gave clearer meaning to everything we do at BJC. Through dialogue, we reach consensus on where the company is going and how it’s going to get there; we no longer look for local optimization but think and act in big-picture terms; we are more coordinated in our way of working; and, most importantly, people understand the reason behind every decision that’s made and action that’s taken.
THE COACH COMMENTS
By Néstor Gavilán, Instituto Lean Management
Our initial people development efforts at BJC took the form of a workshop, which was challenging and instructive for us all. It was true learning-by-doing, which is why we saw such a good response from the participating team.
Initially, the hoshin implementation experienced some difficulties (especially in the identification and simplification of the KPIs, which prompted a lot of discussion), but thanks to the transparency showed by leaders and the standardization efforts that were made, it soon proved to be successful.
It was a great call to invite Alberto as a facilitator of the review meetings, as it helped to define the review process very clearly. Bringing a team leader – someone with experience in lean manufacturing on the shop floor – into the meetings also took away whatever hierarchical misconceptions people might have. Alberto acts like a guarantor of the KPI review process.
In my mind, the next step for the team is to keep pushing with A3 Thinking to clarify how to best integrate it into the boards (some areas are already great at it, while others are still learning). And also to improve the overall management system, by carrying out the deployment of KPIs and objectives by using different boards in all departments and levels of the business.
From the left: Ignacio Martín Marcuello, CEO, BJC Wiring Devices; Alberto Gandia Martinez, Head of Manufacturing, BJC Wiring Devices; and Oscar Embid Balsells, Manager of Manufacturing, Maintenance and Engineering, BJC Wiring Devices.