Businesses must strive to look for better ways to deliver customer value to withstand competition. In today’s modern world, if your company isn’t evolving and exploring ways to do better, it won’t take much time before a new company can take your customers away from you. To continuously improve, companies must regularly review their performance levels and develop strategies to prevent mistakes from recurring and continue doing better than before. This process of reflection, introspection, and improvement planning is what hansei is about.

What is Hansei?

Hansei is a Japanese cultural practice that focuses on self-reflection or introspection. It is a methodical approach to examining past actions, particularly mistakes, to understand why things have gone wrong and how it can be improved or prevented. Hansei is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture that it’s even taught to kids as early as kindergarten. This practice establishes a sense of responsibility and accountability in the lives of the Japanese early in their formative years and essentially becomes a way of life.

Being deeply rooted in the Japanese way of life, hansei became a practice for Japanese companies as well. The idea of introspection is applied in the context of an organization. This can be done after projects are completed, during year-end reviews, or as part of employee self-assessments. Hansei must be conducted regularly after each event no matter the outcome experienced.

How to Implement Hansei

While there is no formal format in doing hansei, the following steps can help you get the most out of this exercise. Hansei is normally done alone but you can apply the concept to team reflections using the same process outlined below.

Identify the Problem

Hansei starts with the realization that no one or no system is perfect. To begin your practice, identify the problem or mistake that you want to reflect upon. When doing this with a group, you can ask your team what areas of the project they think fell short of theirs and the team’s expectations and goals or what we can call the gaps.

Take Responsibility

The next step in doing hansei is to accept that you are accountable for the undesirable outcomes experienced. Once you take responsibility for the negative outcomes you’re experiencing, you’ll be more perceptive and accepting of your weaknesses and areas for improvement. Only with this mindset will you be truthful and effective in planning how to improve yourself. If you fail to feel personally responsible for your failures, you will only think of excuses to justify the undesirable results you’ve experienced.

When doing hansei with a team, everyone must collectively own up to the project’s outcomes. It’s not the responsibility or fault of one team member but the whole team.

List Root Causes

This is where reflection needs to go a bit deeper. When doing hansei properly, you can uncover belief systems, habits, and assumptions that you normally use when implementing decisions in your life. Some belief systems and habits you have and do may have hindered you from achieving your desired results. By letting them surface, you become more aware of how they affect your actions.

When doing this with your team, take into consideration team dynamics and how work is performed amongst all members. This can surface team behaviors that may be contributing to undesired performance levels.

Create an Improvement Plan

Your hansei won’t matter much if you don’t do anything about the realizations and learnings you uncover during your reflection. Putting a concrete plan of action to avoid the same mistake from recurring. You can use a Daily Diary to outline your improvement plan and track your progress.

When doing this with your team, brainstorm on solutions, and write your ideas on a board so that everyone can review them. You need everyone to agree to the solutions and commit to implementing them. Make sure to document your improvement plan and regularly update it to track your progress.

Importance of Hansei in the Toyota Production System

Companies that follow the Toyota Production System conduct regular hansei meetings during critical milestones and at the end of the project. Through these meetings, they can pinpoint problems and mistakes, develop solutions as a team, and foster a continuous improvement mindset throughout the organization.

The Toyota Production System empowers people to find better ways of doing work through techniques such as hansei. Another central pillar to TPS is kaizen. And the first step to doing kaizen is to examine what needs to be improved. Thus, making hansei a regular part of your organization will help facilitate kaizen.

Cultivating a continuous improvement mindset requires teams to always look for ways to do things better. It does not mean though that team achievements will be overlooked and not celebrated. While the focus of hansei discussions is to identify improvement areas, teams are welcome to highlight their wins and push themselves to do an even better job. Whether reviewing good or bad results, keeping in mind that there’s always room for improvement will help us maximize each hansei exercise we perform.

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