Demystifying the Hoshin Kanri X Matrix

Learn what Hoshin Kanri X matrix is, how to read it and how to make the most of this tool for visualizing key strategic initiatives in Lean management.

Introduction

The Hoshin Kanri method is among the most powerful tools in the Lean arsenal for effective strategic management.

When implemented properly, it bridges the gap between strategy and execution by creating alignment and focus.

The most popular way of implementing Hoshin Kanri is applying the X matrix. In the following paragraphs, you will learn what the Hoshin Kanri X matrix is, how to read it and how to get the most of it.

What is Hoshin Kanri X Matrix?

The Hoshin Kanri X matrix is a single page document that includes goals, strategies, strategic projects (initiatives) and owners.

In Lean management, the goal of applying the X matrix is to align the long-term needs with strategic initiatives, identify the most important activities along the way and list the metrics that you need to improve.

A typical X matrix would normally look like this:

Hoshin Kanrix X Matrix
Courtesy of Lean Methods Group

The name comes from the X that divides the matrix into 4 key quadrants:

  • Long-term goals (south)
  • Annual objectives (west)
  • Top-level priorities (north)
  • Metrics to improve (east)

At the corners of the matrix are visualized the dependencies between the activities in each section.

On the far right side of the diagram are placed the names of the people responsible for executing the plan inside.

How to Apply the X Matrix?

Typically the leader of your organization is responsible for setting up the matrix (if applied on a grand scale) or any manager who is implementing it on a team level.

When filling the template, you need to list the most important parts of the diagram closest to the center.

Step 1: Set the Strategic Vision & Goals

You must start with the long-term goals of your team. In Hoshin Kanri, they are normally in the frame between 3 and 5 years.

List them at the bottom quadrant of the matrix and have in mind that every initiative will have a great number of smaller tasks that your team will have to process before achieving the goal.

Consider the capacity of your team before rushing into filling 10 long-term goals.

A simple way to calculate the overall number of tasks that your team will have to complete is to break down each initiative into an actual plan for execution to the smallest possible task before listing the next long-term plan in the matrix.

Step 2: Define Key Mid-Term Objectives

After your long-term goals are all set, prepare the most important objectives that you aim to achieve in a shorter time frame (e.g. 1 year) and put them in the left quadrant of the Hoshin matrix.

To create these, you’ll want to consider what you need to accomplish first to keep you on track and then build on from there.

Step 3: Set Short-Term Actions and Metrics

Next, you need to fill the top quadrant with the most important activities that your team has to complete in order to achieve the short-term goals. As a Lean manager, this is basically your to-do list for the upcoming months.

The right quadrant is for the metrics that will keep you on track during the time when you are executing the company’s goals.

Considering that all of your Lean teams have their own distinctive key performance indicators, you need to be very careful when putting the key metrics on the Hoshin Kanri X matrix.

Step 4: Agree on Key Performance Indicators

This is just about the perfect time to apply the Hoshin Kanri Catchball and share your plans with the rest of the stakeholders.

Together you can agree on the most crucial metrics that you need to improve and list them on the diagram without risking drops of morale from people whose work is not considered vital to the successful execution of the project.

Following this line of thought, right next to the key metrics, you need to list the key stakeholders who will be responsible for leading the completion of the activities in the top quadrant of the matrix.

Although Lean encourages shared ownership of the workflow, for more clarity, we recommend that you list only the people responsible for the successful delivery of the team’s work, or simply said team leaders, managers, and process owners.

Step 5: Connecting the Dots – Mark the Dependencies

Last but not least, you should complete the picture by specifying the dependencies between every listing in your matrix.

We recommend starting with creating a legend of the different correlation markers that will connect each quadrant to the next.

Although you’ve got plenty of flexibility to customize them, we advise you to keep it simple and add no more than 3 different ways of correlations.

For example, you can list a primary and a secondary way of correlation. To distinguish one from another, use different figures for visualizing them (circles, triangles, squares, etc.).

You can apply all sorts of geometrical figures but remember that the matrix needs to remain transparent and every person should understand the information inside in a single glance.

To mark the dependencies between the quadrants in your Hoshin Kanri X matrix, you need to place an appropriate figure in the squares on the intersections between each quadrant in the corners of the diagram.

Going from Strategy to Execution

Continuous improvement is a vital part of Lean management and you need to find a way to scale the value of Hoshin Kanri as well.

The X matrix is a great way to prepare an actionable plan for achieving your company’s goals and easily monitor progress on a macro level. However, if you want to break large initiatives down into day-to-day tasks and monitor their progress, this matrix won’t be as helpful.

Once you have the strategic vision and dependencies clarified, it’s time to turn the strategy into tasks and projects. You can easily do that by implementing the Portfolio Kanban method, which is another powerful Lean method that complements Hoshin Kanri.

Portfolio Kanban allows you to break down large projects into smaller initiatives on multiple levels and link them to each other so you can have absolute transparency of what needs to be done and how your affairs are progressing.

For example, you have decided to focus on 2 strategic initiatives in the next 4 years. You create a Portfolio Kanban board for each of them.

Next, you determine that there are 3 focused strategies for each of the initiatives and break them down to second layer of 3 Portfolio boards per initiative.

Afterward, you break down the shorter initiatives into 2 key projects for each one that needs to be completed to achieve them. To visualize the upper quadrant of the matrix, you create a third layer of Portfolio Kanban boards that hold each of the 18 key projects.

The third layer is the one where you have small tasks, which your regular team members can start processing and begin the long journey toward completing your long-term goals.

You should assign to each Portfolio board the process owner who is going to be responsible for executing the project inside.

As work items are making their way toward the Done section of each Kanban board, you will be able to constantly monitor progress on a micro level and achieve unparalleled transparency of your process on the macro level.

In Summary

The Hoshin Kanri X matrix is a great tool of the Hoshin Kanri method that allows you to:

  • Visualize long-term strategy and break it down to align goals with actions.
  • Put a clear emphasis on the most important initiatives that you need to complete.
  • Make transparent the dependencies in your process.
  • Bridge Hoshin Kanri to other Lean methods such as Kanban to maximize effect.

Up Next

Step 2

What is Hoshin Kanri Catchball?

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