Saturday, September 26, 2009

Don Quixote, hoshin kanri, and tilting at windmills

Tom Jackson
Monterrey, Mexico

I spent the past week in Mexico, where I made a presentation about hoshin kanri and the A3 system to the Annual Shingo Prize Conference of Mexico. In preparing for my talk, I searched for a way to connect with my Spanish-speaking audience. I recalled my recent reading of Cervantes' great novel, Don Quixote. Of course it is only coincidental that there is an "x" in both "Quixote" and the "A3X matrix," (the X-matrix is the subject of many of my posts) and that "X" looks something like the windmill that Quixote tilts with to such devastating effect early in the novel. Or is it?

NOTE: You don't need to read Don Quixote to understand this post. I'll do the heavy lifting. But, if you're interested, there's a new translation of Don Quixote in contemporary English--by Edith Grossman--that you might want to take a look at.

So, here goes. Don Quixote is, among other things, a book about how we deal with multiple realities. The book was, of course, written after Gutenberg published the Bible in German, an act that, together with Luther's Reformation, split the Western world in two. In this newly fractured landscape, a landscape that has become only more fractured since Cervantes' time, the idealistic Quixote tilts at the windmills because, having read too many Medieval romances, he firmly believes that they are horrible monsters. Quixote's more realistic squire, Sancho Panza, sees things quite differently and tries in vain to warn his master of the impending doom originating not from the windmills but from the Don's fertile imagination. Two perspectives; two different versions of reality. Which is correct?

Throughout the book we proceed through multiple adventures, disasters all, with Quixote and Sancho engaged in the same conflict of perspectives. This much of the story most people know from the Broadway show and movie, Man of La Mancha. But there is more. This is of course the world of the printed word, of two Bibles (and more to follow), the world of what was to become the free press, a world in which one may share one's own perspective in one’s own language—although at considerable risk, in our own time as well as Cervantes’. Characters in the book start writing about Quixote and his squire; their fame, or should we say infamy, grows. Before the end, the whole world is reading about Quixote and his slapstick, tragicomic adventures. In fact, the new authors join in fun, actively creating new misadventures for Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. The dividing line between reality and illusion is blurred. The book culminates in Quixote visiting a bookstore in Barcelona, where he reads about himself, as seen by others, and he complains bitterly, "This is not the true Quixote." It all ends badly. Quixote dies unhappy, having seen his dreams of romantic glory come “true,” orchestrated by the new authors only to make cruel fun of the old man. But it all unravels. The multiple perspectives of the book cannot be reconciled. Everything falls apart.

Clearly, I do not do Cervantes justice, but that is not the point. My point is that this should ring a bell. Aren't many leaders a little like Quixote? Isn't leading an enterprise something like this? The advent of lean enterprise only makes the situation worse. There were always many perspectives to reconcile in leading a company. Now, in the era of empowerment, leaders have to listen to Sancho Panza as well as all of those imitation Quixotes! It is, indeed, a quixotic task. And perhaps we are as crazy as Quixote to believe in our visions, saddle our broken down horses, and stumble off to tilt at windmills.

Or else we resort to the unilateral assertion of authority. But we know that Inquisitions are ultimately not very effective. Besides, they are a waste of good human resources.

In the method of hoshin kanri, there may be a happy ending for the quixotic leaders of enterprises that would be lean. For hoshin kanri is truly a method for reconciling the multiple perspectives of the enterprise in alignment with the vision of the Don, er, the leader.

The catchball process of hoshin kanri is a painstaking methodology for sharing perspectives, perspectives on the targets and the means by which the targets will be achieved. Senior management communicates its vision and establishes the results that must be achieved. Middle management responds with comments on the vision and targets and proposes the means or improvement processes by which the results with be achieved. In turn, middle management communicates to front line managers the process improvements that will be undertaken, and front line management responds with proposed schedules and identifies resource requirements. 

When catchball is a genuine process, there is what contract lawyers call a meeting of the minds, which is the core of any robust agreement, the source of organizational alignment. When done systematically and methodically, catchball results, for all intents and purposes, in “one reality” for the members of the organization. We can see this unity of perspectives memorialized on a good A3X, or X-matrix, which binds together all of the A3T team charters that define the annual hoshin or short term strategy.

It is as if Don Quixote has convinced the entire world to join him on his quest.

Naturally, the Don—and by extension, all who would be leaders—must take care to envision New Worlds that are truly valuable, namely, worlds without waste, worlds that respect people.... Even here, however, hoshin offers a checking mechanism. The Don must listen to Sancho--and all of the imitation Quixotes--and each of take them seriously. 

Luckily--in fact, deliberately--Sancho, and the catchball process, ultimately tie the Don's vision to the gemba of direct obervation.

1 comment:

Mario GR said...

I´m a new guy in lean process,I attended your presentation at Monterrey and I liked a lot..your way to tie hoshin-kanri catchball process with Don Quijote (wich is the spanish name)was really interesting and helped me to better understanding of the process
Thank you