As a safety person, I have found myself wearing many hats for an organization. I was the one that had to set the vision, make the plan, and lead the work to be done. Early in my career when asked to do all the things, I had no training or tools at my disposal. I had to make it up as I went and hope that it was right. Honestly, the planning process for some organizations was me taking the OSHA recordable incident rate and reducing it by 10% each year for 5-years. Then, praying that I could achieve those numbers with no real investment, support, or leadership training. For many years I would then report a statistical miss on the 5-year plan, get yelled at on a conference call, then perform the same 5-year 10% exercise using the current OSHA RIR.

It was later in my career that various organizations started teaching real lean theory and how to use the tools to benefit the safety organization. What I love most about lean or six-sigma is that there are so many tools at my disposal. That is also a problem, though. Not every tool is needed every time. It is up to the practitioner to choose the right tools for the right application so that they can be effective. One of those tools that I have used many times to help create the vision, plan, and tactical steps for a safety program is an X-Matrix or Hoshin X-Matrix.

First, a quick side-story. While completing my MBA, I was in a statistics class. The professor was lecturing on the importance of knowing which method to use for which scenario. Which even to this day confuses the heck out of me. He was telling a story of a Ph.D. student he was mentoring. He has asked the student what their plan was for their dissertation. The student expressed that they would gather sets of data and run pretty much every statistical model they had learned on the data. The professor let them follow that direction. Long story short, the student discovered that not every statistical model was needed to create good conclusions.

This is the same with using lean or six sigma tools. Not every tool is needed for every job. It is necessary to know the tools and their uses. That way when there is a situation where planning or data is needed, the person is aware of the tool. These methods of organization are tools just like physical tools in a toolbox. If all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail. But if you have a well-stocked toolbox, then you can adapt to the job and the circumstances of the work that you need to perform. Part of being a mentor is to help equip someone with the tools they need at this stage of their career and the future they want to create for themselves.

It has taken a while to get to the point. The X-matrix is not a tool that is used in every single circumstance. If you need to help focus on the 3-5 year goals, your 1-year objectives, the metrics that need to be influenced, and your top-level priorities, this is a tool that can help bridge the short term to the long term. It helps to crystalize the actual plan. When I have been in a position where I was setting these visions, the x-matrix is invaluable. I routinely review the matrix with the top-level leadership to remind all of us about the top-level priorities. It helps to keep the safety mission on track while still making the necessary course corrections.

Next time I will walk through the process of using the x-matrix, but until then here is the blank copy that I use. Enjoy! 🙂