Hansei, the Art of Reflection and Improvement

Hansei is an integral part of the Toyota continuous improvement journey, and often the most neglected in western organisations. The term hansei is derived from two Japanese words. “Han” means to change, turn over, or turn upside down. “Sei” means to look back upon, review, and examine oneself. We busily wrap up one task or group project and hasten to the next, without taking that vital step of stopping, reflecting on what has happened and planning to do better the next time. This is not only a useful meditative exercise to deepen our understanding. It is also an intervention or plan of action to fix the things that went wrong, and to implement better practice for the future.


Implementing hansei in the workplace is not easy, in any culture. Decision makers equate productivity with busyness. Hansei requires time, typically a very scarce commodity. Because of its nature – diagnostic and referring to the past – it is not seen as immediately value adding. We need to update our understanding of value adding. Value is not merely the practice of working to produce in a constant stead flow to meet demand, it is also the practice of stopping when sufficient is produced, and also stopping to examine performance when a major piece of work has been completed.

The most important requirement of hansei practice is to be honest with oneself, and to have the ability to be honest with the group. Each of us needs to develop a comfort level and confidence in expressing our thoughts and feeling about our role in the completion of tasks, projects and programmes in the workplace. That is not to say that we beat ourselves up when things go wrong. Rather, it is a statement of facts that enables us to accept the good and the bad of what happened in a dispassionate way, with the true intention of building on the good, and improving on the bad.

When has there ever been a better time to implement the practice of hansei in the workplace? The COVID pandemic has brought about radical change in the way we interact and do business. Many of us realise, for deeply personal reasons, the value of our health and that of our loved ones and colleagues. Many of us have been extraordinarily busy, or have had period of enforced idleness, that are very significant milestones in our lives. Start your hansei journey today. Timetable 1 hour every Friday to reflect on the work of the week just past. Many in your group will not be comfortable with reflection, however the more you practice the easier and more beneficial it becomes.

The benefits of hansei are many. Firstly, we deepen our understanding of the change process that has just taken place. This enables us to recognise patterns of behaviour and actions that may have been sub-optimal at the time. We can make conscious note to change that behaviour in the next change iteration. We can also intervene to update guidance documents, procedures, job descriptions and work instructions, regarding that particular practice. Hansei also enables us to recognise what went particularly well during a change process. This helps us to celebrate the success with our team. Again, celebration is a practice often neglected in our busyness and eagerness to climb the next change mountain.  Successful outcomes are also a reason to update our procedures and role cards. The benefits of hansei go far beyond the tangible updating of documents. We strengthen ourselves and our teams and build a more agile and resilient organisation. This will enable us to recognise assimilate and adapt to the inevitable changes the future will bring.

© Bernie Rushe, BSc, CPIM, Dip SA, MSc, Black Belt
Bernie@LeanIreland.ie, +353-87-2837810

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