Toyota Kata (part II)

I’ve written about Toyota Kata earlier, that was before I read the book (also named ”Toyota Kata”). Now I have done that. The author is Mike Rother and the subtitle ”Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Result”. The book was released in 2009, and have 306 pages.



The book consists of 9 chapters divided into five parts. The different parts are:

  • Part I – The Situation
  • Part II – Know yourself
  • Part III – The Improvement Kata: How Toyota Continuously Improves
  • Part IV – The Coaching Kata: How Toyota Teaches the Improvement Kata
  • Part V – Replication What About Other Companies?

The book starts by talking about the current situation. The scenario:
We are here -> Unclear territory -> Where we want to be

We first need to know where we are, before we can move in any direction. If the way to where we want to be is clear, it’s pure implementation to get there (this is not very likely).

”However, it is generally not possible simply to maintain a level of process performance. A process will tend to erode no matter what, even if a standard is defined, explained to everyone, and posted. This is not because of poor discipline by workers (as many of us may believe), but due to interaction effects and entropy, which says than any organized process naturally tends to decline to a chaotic state if we leave it alone.” – Mike Rother

One tool to ”know yourself” (i.e., your business) is to do a Value-Stream Mapping. At Toyota the daily management and continuous process improvements are the same (and not two separate as in most other companies). There is a saying: ”The shop floor is a reflection of management”. The thinking is long-term, a vision can expand beyond one working lifetime. Toyotas long-term vision (that they have been pursuing for decades) consists of:

  • Zero defects
  • 100 percent value added
  • One-piece flow, in sequence, on demand
  • Security for people.

A vision serves primarily as a direction giver. A target condition is more detailed and specific and tells where to go next.

Part III & IV of the book is the heart as they describe The Improvement Kata and The Coaching Kata. This is how the Improvement Kata works:

”Briefly put, the continuously repeating routine of Toyota’s improvement kata goes like this: (1) in consideration of a vision, direction, or target, and (2) with a firsthand grasp of the current situation, (3) a next target condition on the way forward to the vision is defined. When we then (4) strive to move step by step toward the target condition, we encounter obstacles that define what we need to work on, and from which we learn.” – Mike Rother

The ”step by step”-moving is controlled by using PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act).

The Five Questions is a summary of Toyota’s approach for moving toward a target condition and they are highly effective in practice.

  1. What is the target condition? (The challenge)
  2. What is the actual condition now?
  3. What obstacles are now preventing you from reaching the target condition? Which ones are you addressing now?
  4. What is your next step? (Start of next PDCA cycle)
  5. When can we go and see what we have learned from taking that step?

The purpose of the coaching kata is to teach the organization the improvement kata. It is about leaders as teachers, in a system with mentors and mentees. The purpose of A3 documents is to support the mentor/mentee dialogue.

”We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” – Peter Drucker


I let the author summarize: ”The goal of this book is to set you up to experiment and thereby develop your management system in accordance with the needs of your situation”. I can recommend this book if you want to know more about Toyota Kata, it will be your primary source!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

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