Kata History - Lean Competency System

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Kata history

Kata is a Japanese word that means ‘form’. It is most often used in the context of Japanese martial arts, referring to a choreographed set of movements that are repeated over and over again to build muscle memory. Practising kata consistently and deliberately forms a habit and develops new skills.

Many organisations worldwide focused their Improvement efforts using Lean tools and techniques learned from Toyota. However much of the improvements made were not sustainable and did not match the success seen at Toyota.

This led Mike Rother to study Toyota in depth, to try to understand if there was something specific that they were doing that drove their success.

Rother focused on learning how the company developed solutions, rather than the specifics of the solutions. To do this, he focused on two key questions:

  1. What are the unseen managerial routines and thinking that lie behind Toyota’s success with continuous improvement and adaptation and why can they keep going and sustain this when others cannot?
  2. How can other companies develop similar routines and thinking in their organisations?

Rother observed that Toyota managers followed a consistent pattern of thinking processes and coaching behaviours and recognised that the Toyota managers’ approach to problem-solving is a scientific pattern of thinking and behavior. 

Rother outlined this scientific approach as a four stage model, described as “Improvement Kata” and observed that while every manager has their own way of implementation, the pattern generally follows these four steps.

He recorded those processes and behaviours, termed Toyota Kata and popularised them  in the seminal book Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results published in 2009

How does kata fit with existing improvement activity?

If you already are using an improvement approach, the good news is that both improvement Kata and Coaching Kata will accelerate what you are already doing..

  • Kata is about habit forming around simple patterns of behaviours. It’s high on practice and does not emphasise theory.
  • It’s a framework that focuses on how you do things, rather than a method or tool.
  • As it is a framework of simple behavioural patterns, it can be applied to any situation and work with any improvement methodology.
  • Being quick to teach and practice, it speeds up the identification and adoption of tools and techniques from your existing methodology.
  • By allowing the improver to learn for themselves, it can generate a demand or pull for tools and techniques from the existing methodology – highlighting problems needing a solution from your toolkit.

You may find that kata challenges how you think and deliver improvement, which is positive and we believe kata will help your improvement efforts to go further, faster