Toyota Kata

Kata is simple, structured routines that one practice deliberately, so the pattern becomes a habit and leaves you with new abilities. The word comes from the martial arts, where Kata are used to train combatants in basic building-block moves. This idea of practicing Kata can be applied in a much broader sense. It is about practicing a scientific way of working, and, ultimately, thinking, in order to achieve superior results.

The Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata were introduced by Mike Rother in his book Toyota Kata, as an effective way to develop the scientific problem-solving method based on PDCA embedded in Toyota's thinking processes. 

By practicing the Improvement Kata, individuals improve and adapt their work, create a new better way of working. Through this practice, individuals make a habit of using the scientific problem-solving method of plan, do, check, act (PDCA) whenever faced with a problem in their work processes. The PDCA gets embedded in mind.


The Coaching Kata is a framework, used by lean leaders to provoke and reinforce the effective practice of the Improvement Kata. The coaching practice occurs at the Gemba, where the work is done, motivating people to achieve new levels of performance through innovation, adaptiveness and the scientific problem-solving method of PDCA.

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Why Toyota Kata is needed?

No one knows what the world will look like tomorrow, so one of the most valuable life-skills you can develop among your people is the ability to adapt. Scientific thinking is exactly that. It involves running experiments between what you predict to happen next, seeing what actually happens, and adjusting your thinking based on what you learn from the difference.

 

Scientific thinking is the best way we have in navigating through unpredictable territory to achieve challenging goals. Scientific thinking can make anyone more adaptive, creative, and successful in the face of uncertainty. Scientific thinking is not difficult, it’s just not our default mode. Practicing the Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata forms habits that help you solve problems, achieve goals, and reframe how you look at and deal with the world. But it is not about learning problem solving. It’s about learning a mindset that makes you better at problem solving. 

How do we modify our way of thinking, and how do you do that across a team or an entire organization?

Many of our thinking patterns live in a self-perpetuating loop. Simply put, every time we think or do something, we are more likely to do it again. Every time we think or do something, we’re adding more pavement to the roadways in our brain, turning them into highways and increasing the likelihood that we’ll use those same roads again. They are our habits. Habits are essential to our survival.

 

Many of our thinking patterns can be modified, through a process that resembles skill development in sports and music. You deliberately practice a new behavior pattern, every day, and over time, and with the right set of emotions, that creates new neural pathways and reshapes your thinking. However, shifting to a new, life-changing habit all at once is probably impossible, since the strength of our existing neural pathways, our existing habits, tends to pull us back. It’s usually more effective to start small, by introducing a few new routines into your daily activity and building on them as your abilities and confidence start to grow. That is where Kata come in, structured practice routines that put you on the road to successfully developing new patterns of thinking.

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The Toyota Kata is designed for three players who work together:

  1. The Learner: Anyone who wants to become proficient, through practice, in the practical scientific working and thinking pattern described by the Improvement Kata. 

  2. The Internal Coach: Anyone who wants to become proficient at providing coaching support to the Improvement Kata learners by practicing the Coaching Kata.

  3. The Lean Coach: Who trains and guides periodically with a focus on Internal Coaches, who first practices the Improvement Kata and then move on to practice the Coaching Kata.

We may be exiting in a business period when the main challenges revolved around maximizing efficiency and reducing cost, and now entering a time when challenges are more diverse and paths more unpredictable. Yesterday’s solutions will not ft tomorrow’s problems. The most important thing for managers to focus on may not be the content of what their people are working on, but the patterns of thinking and acting we utilize as we strive for goals. What we are talking about here is developing the capability and confidence of people in the organization as a main aspect. The management methods we have been practicing over the last few decades were arguably intended to reduce uncertainty, but the management methods of the future may be as much about being effective and comfortable working within unavoidable uncertainty. Practicing the Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata is not going to make you and your team more certain about how to reach a particular goal. It makes you more certain about how to go about reaching any goal.

 

Although learning new skills involves a certain amount of discomfort, it’s quite amazing what you can achieve through practicing a practical form of scientific thinking. The more scientific thinking capability you develop in your teams, the more you can empower them to meet challenges that you may have once considered impossible. Managers play a key role in this, because it is their job to create the creators. The Lean Kata Practice is for how to do that. Look around you. The workplace may be the largest classroom of all, and its managers are the teachers.