Toyota Kata (part I)

”Toyota Kata” is a book by Mike Rother that came out in 2009. If ”The Toyota Way” by Jeffrey K. Liker (2003) is the old testament in ”the bible of Lean”, this is the new testament. I have not read this book. Yet. Instead I’ve crawled the mighty interweb. On a very high level you can explain Toyota Kata as ”continuous improvements as part of the muscle memory”. In this post I give you my initial thoughts on Toyota Kata which I think is very interesting! The true in-depth details I will come back to in a part II (after I’ve read the book that is).

First an attempt to make the definitions clear:

  • Toyota – Is a Japanese car manufacturer (most of you know that already I guess 🙂 )
  • Kata – The original meaning of the word from Wikipedia: “Kata is a Japanese word describing detailed choreographed patterns of movements practiced either solo or in pairs”. In this context discussed here it’s more ”Kata are patterns that are practiced so they become second nature”
  • Toyota Kata – From Wikipedia: ”Toyota Kata defines management as, ‘the systematic pursuit of desired conditions by utilizing human capabilities in a concerted way.’ Rother proposes that it is not solutions themselves that provide sustained competitive advantage and long-term survival, but the degree to which an organization has mastered an effective routine for developing fitting solutions again and again, along unpredictable paths. This requires teaching the skills behind the solution.”
  • Kanban Kata or Toyota kata in knowledge work – The Swede Håkan Forss have made adjustments for the Software/IT industry. Explanation:  ”Kanban Kata is a series of questions and forms that help you to improve in small steps, in a continuous flow, so that improvement work and ordinary work are intermingled”. More about it here.

Improvement Kata

Consists of the following steps:

  1. Understand the Direction
  2. Grasp the Current Condition
  3. Establish the Next Target Condition
  4. Iterate toward the Target Condition

First of all you need to understand the direction, sometimes also called vision. But it should not be the company vision, but instead focus on how the process performs. The direction shall motivate and be something to strive towards. For example it could be ”zero defects”. If will (never?) be reachable, but it will act as an ”guiding star”.

Then you need to grasp the current condition. And you need to understand how things really works, not on a high-level, but down to the inner details of your process. First step is of course to visualize your process like you do in agile methods (like Scrum and Kanban). You also need to collect data to have as metrics. Without that you will not know if your changes are positive or negative.

When you know where you want to go, and where you are starting from, you shall establish the next target condition. Discuss this with your team and set a target condition that is just beyond their horizon of what they think they can achieve. This to make it a challenge, otherwise it would be ”business as usual”.

Final step is to iterate towards the target condition. You do this in small steps in a PDCA cycle.

Coaching Kata

Explanation: ”The Coaching Kata is a Practice Routine for Teaching the Improvement Kata Pattern – As in sports and music, practicing should be done under periodic observation and correction by an experienced coach. Without coaching we lose our way and don’t practice the right pattern, or practice ineffectively.  Without coaching, a change in our mindset — in our brain’s wiring — is unlikely to occur. Once you learn the Improvement Kata, the Coaching Kata develops your skill as a manager for teaching the pattern of the Improvement Kata in everyday work.”

Are you still with me? I’m soon done, this is as I already mentioned only my initial insights in this subject. Do you eager for more and can’t wait for me to finishing reading the book (I think I can guess the answer to that question)? Well, then please go ahead and watch some of the clips from YouTube you find below.

This one is by Bill Costantino, and it is 40 minutes long.

(The Improvement Kata: A Way of Managing)

If you only have 30 minutes and 43 seconds to spare (but on the other hand really, really like Lego), start with this one.

(Toyota Kata by Hakan Forss, Lean IT Summit 2013)

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