Lean Kata – Engaging Leaders in your Lean Transformation

What is Lean Kata?

The word ‘Kata’ is actually borrowed from the martial arts, and describes a standard way of doing things, a training method or drill, if you like. These disciplines are frequently used by sports coaches to teach developing players the basic principles of their chosen sport (if you’ve ever had a golf or tennis lesson you will recognise the approach). It’s often a skill-set passed from trainer to trainee, an important concept in the nature of how Toyota trains staff in solving problems and improving processes.

Lean Kata (also known as Toyota Kata) is based around two Kata, the Improvement Kata and the Coaching Kata. When practised they form a powerful method of problem-solving and improvement that can be applied in many situations, and at any level of an organisation.

Where did it come from?

The term kata, used in the context of lean, was first used with the publishing of a book by Mike Rother called ‘Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results’ in 2009. Mike has been an evangelist for the Kata methods, and provides a wealth of supporting training material to anybody interested in the approach. A link to his website can be found at the bottom of the page.

Many of the images used on this page have been generated by Mike Rother, and my thanks are extended to him for his permission to use them to help promote the Kata approach.

Why is it important?

The Improvement Kata & Coaching Kata don’t just model a way of working, they also include structured practice routines to make their pattern teachable and transferable. This is a way to build improvement capability into an organization and make effective empowerment possible.

A key aspect of Lean Kata is the role that leadership plays in Coaching their team members through the cycles of kata improvement. This closes an important gap in many lean deployments, the role of the manager and leader in engaging with improvement activity. Too often managers are not engaged in the actual improvement activity, and don’t have the opportunity to play a hands-on role in problem-solving. The Coaching Kata enables them to become fully engaged in the improvement process, through helping the team members structure their improvement activity via the Improvement Kata (IK) and to go-look-see the impact that these improvements are having.

A brief overview

Mike Rother’s research concluded that Toyota employs two kata, the first one for a cycle of Improvement (IK) and the second Kata for Coaching (CK) team members through the first Kata.

The Improvement Kata (IK) is a continuously repeated routine that follows 4 basic steps:

  1. What’s the long-term vision or goal for this process?
  2. Where are we today?
  3. What is the next ‘target condition’ we can get to towards our ultimate goal?
  4. What obstacles stand in the way of achieving the ‘target condition’, and what do we need to work on first?

An aspect of this Kata approach that is powerful is that it encourages teams to move towards an ultimate goal in a series of clearly defined steps, where improvements are taken one at a time, and validated before moving to the next one.

The purpose of the Coaching Kata is to guide the student through the process of improvement, so that they gain the insight and learning for themselves. That way they develop a better understanding of the process they are working on, and start to become capable coaches of the IK to other people as well.

Typically, the five key questions in the Coaching kata cycle are:

  1. What is the target condition?
  2. What is the actual condition now?
  3. What problems are preventing you from reaching the target condition – and which one are you addressing now?
  4. What is your next step?
  5. When can we ‘go and see’ what we have learned from taking that step?

Lean FSL and Lean Kata

A team or organisation that’s pursuing continuous improvement will do well to use some structured practice routines – Kata – for developing new behaviour, habits and culture, especially at the beginning.

However, the problem is often one of not knowing where to start! This is where Lean FSL can help. Our direct experience of working at Toyota and of practicing each of the Kata in many industries already, means that we are well-qualified to help you and your team practice and become competent in both IK and CK. When practicing the IK, we can act as the Coach for your team members, guiding them through the process to ensure that the habits are properly developed. Similarly, we can act as a 2nd Coach to a person practicing the Coaching Kata with a team member.

We are able to provide a tailored programme of Kata training, combining practical support with a Kata-based simulation developed by TWI Master training Joakim Bjurstrom and the University of Buckingham.

Please contact us using the details on the right of the page for a discussion as to how we can help you with your journey towards Kata perfection.

 http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mrother/Homepage.html