Published: 7 Apr 2020

David Hutchins, CQP FCQI, Chairman and Principal at David Hutchins International, looks at how quality professionals can help their organisations by applying the Hoshin Kanri method and using Deming’s 14 points for management.

When we celebrated the New Year, as we raised our glasses, we could not possibly have suspected what was to be our collective global fate in the months to follow.

I was tempted to call this article ‘Out of the Crisis’ as a reference to the book by W. Edwards Deming that was published in 1982 during the time the United States was going through a recession. The title is as relevant now as it was then. However, it is a very different crisis that we now face, but nevertheless it requires the same dedication to resolve it. The qualified quality professional is best placed to help top management to put the crisis behind them and make the organisation fit and lean.

In Deming’s book he pointed out 14 specific points that Western businesses should adopt to close the gap on the advantages achieved by the Japanese. Many companies in many industries have largely responded to this and the differences between Japanese capability and that of leading Western companies have all but disappeared. However, there are three of Deming’s points where the West is still woefully deficient and it is these three that are critical if we are to recover quickly from this pandemic to restore our economies.

The points I refer to are as follows (taken from Out of the Crisis):

  • Point 9. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems in production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.
  • Point 12. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker(s) of their right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality. In many organisations, the hourly worker becomes a commodity. He may not even know whether he will be working next week. Management can face declining sales and increased costs of almost everything, but it is often helpless in facing the problems of personnel. The establishment of employee involvement and of participation plans has been a smoke screen. Management needs to listen and to correct process problems that are robbing the worker of pride of workmanship.
  • Point 14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.

These three points almost perfectly describe Hoshin Kanri, a method for ensuring that the strategic goals of a company drive progress and action at every level within that organisation.

Never has there been a better time for the quality profession to articulate the principles of Hoshin Kanri. If you have time on your hands during the remainder of the lockdown, I can think of no better way to use it than to become an expert in this topic.

Working together with common goals and objectives is the essence of Hoshin Kanri. Hoshin Kanri aims to get every employee pulling in the same direction at the same time. It implies that if we make each person the expert in his or her own job, then we can use the collective thinking power of all our people.

Interestingly, we have just witnessed the use of Hoshin Kanri when a 1,000 bed Chinese hospital was built in under two weeks, close to the original outbreak of the virus. In London, the 4000 bed Nightingale Hospital, created in the ExCel centre in London, was operational in just nine days. This is Hoshin Kanri at its best, but those who were responsible for this incredible achievement have probably never heard of this method used for strategic planning.

These two achievements share several things in common. Firstly there is a common enemy that has broken down barriers between people, causing everyone to work together (Point 9). Secondly, everyone recognised the mutual dependence they have on others which gives workers the right to pride of workmanship as mentioned in Deming’s twelfth point. Thirdly, everyone is completely focused on achieving the transformation (Point 14).

Covid-19 has forced politicians to work together, neighbours are helping each other, and communities are rallying around the elderly and the vulnerable. Will politicians return to neglecting their health services and overlooking the role that the emergency services play in our everyday lives? Right now, the virus has given us the opportunity to look at how we used to do things and how we can do them in a better way. If we are not part of the emergency and essential services that we are relying on to fight the virus, then we do have the time to forge the structure of a new society, one that is fit for all life on this planet.

Let us work together to create a new normal.