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Policy Deployment is the (usually) annual process of reviewing the strategic goals of an organization and aligning the company’s resources towards meeting those goals. Hoshin Kanri is the Japanese term that means roughly the same. The literal translation, like many foreign words, is open to interpretation, but many versions seem to include something about a ‘direction needle’ linked with something about control or administration or management.
Regardless of the exact translation, most Lean practitioners agree that policy deployment is a critical tool to turn strategic goals into actionable tasks at the frontline of an organization.
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Strategic planning sets the direction. Policy deployment is the means by which real, actionable goals cascade down throughout the organization. It is frequently supported by a series of matrices that break objectives into smaller and smaller targets. These goals ultimately drive the specific things that front line leaders do to help the company achieve its strategy. Thus, policy deployment (PD) is a means of making sure that everything the company does contributes to the master plan of the organization.
The output of policy deployment is a set of goals and objectives at each frontline organization in the company. In theory, when all of the cascaded objectives are compiled, they will add up to meet the top level goals. That means that each organization within the company must do its part, or the company will be unable to reach its strategic goals.
That is one of the key takeaways regarding policy deployment. All of the organizations in the company have an assigned slice of the strategy. If some of those groups fall behind and are not going to successfully hit its targets, the overall plan must be altered to for the company to remain successful. The structure of the policy deployment process allows continual review of progress, which lets leaders act on deviations from the plan. This review is vital for policy deployment to be effective. It is not a task that is done once a year. It requires regular action to keep goals on track. Monthly operations reviews are a common way that organizations track progress.
The concept of policy deployment gets muddied when there are problems with ongoing operations that are not specifically addressed in policy deployment. Suppose you run an order entry group, and one of your metrics (developed during the PD process) requires you to get some portion of the ordering done online. While you are working on that, shipping delays increasingly come out of production problems associated with your company’s growth. You find more and more of your time is spent developing processes to help preserve the customer relationship, and less time is spent focusing on improvement objectives related to PD.
In situations like this, it is important to communicate with the company’s leadership. If you are going to be unable to reach your goals, the plan must be altered so that the “improvement math” still works out.
Like many things, policy deployment has both an upside and a downside for frontline employees. The downside is that there is a lot more scrutiny on the operation, and there are far more metrics that will be monitored.
The upside, though, is very large. First, there’s a great deal more communication. And in study after study communication rates as one of the most important factors for job satisfaction. In addition, while many people don’t like the prospect of operating under set of metrics,, there is a rather large benefit. While metrics present a target to you, it also acts as a limit to what your leadership can ask of you. When organization operates with effective metrics, it is uncommon to see leaders asking for employees to move the earth. They have a much clearer understanding of what is possible and recognize the problems associated with asking people to work outside of the normal processes.
Weigh the benefits of policy deployment against the costs before passing judgment. Because it likely represents a significant shift in the way your organization does business, it can be scary. But in truth, the communication and trust that comes with a structured leadership approach created a much more satisfying work environment than one run by unpredictable, disorganized leadership.
As a continuous improvement leader, you should be closely familiar with your team’s slice of the pie, and understand how it links to the corporate strategy. Knowing the ‘why’ about something will make the ‘what’ much easier.
For example, if you are told to prepare to double production, and you are not seeing sales to support it, you may not make that a priority. But if you seen a policy deployment matrix and you know that the company strategy involves an increased emphasis on sales in Asia, and that others are working on developing a sales channel, then the urgency is more pronounced.
While policy deployment is a great tool for improving an organization, it can also point out problems in a strategy. You may find that your strategy is simply too big of a stretch with your current resources and team capabilities. In those cases, resist the urge to simply try to squeeze more out of teams. It defeats the purpose of PD. There should be no use of hope as a method of achieving targets. That’s not to say you can’t have people sign up for a 7.9% productivity gain for the year, but if the average has been 4%, planning for a 16% improvement is a bit of magical thinking.
I will end this section with one final caution for senior leaders. Even though this term is called policy deployment, it should not be done in the dictatorial fashion. There should be plenty of back-and-forth communication as goals are set and tasks are assigned. Be demanding and challenge your team but you have to be reasonable order policy deployment will be ineffective. If junior leaders are not committed to the goals, they will be hard pressed to achieve them.
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