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Toyota Kata is not something you “implement”, it is something you practice. You learn, and gain skill and competence in the Toyota Kata patterns by practicing the improvement and coaching kata. This practice is best done with the guidance of a coach in the workplace or in a simulated environment. Perhaps the most realistic and immersive simulated environment I have ever experienced is the Lean Environment Simulator (LES) used in the Skillpoint for Kata training.

When Toyota and GM formed their NUMMI joint venture, it became clear that adopting the Toyota Production System (TPS) and culture quickly in GM was going to require different tactics than previously used by Toyota. They decided to create a simulated work environment that would allow a realistic experience of production and the TPS.

This simulated work environment, which has been duplicated more than 30 times in other organizations like Caterpillar, includes:

  • A fully functional powered conveyor line.
  • Power tool and manual assembly disassembly of components on ¼ size wooden truck bodies.
  • Functioning andon system.
  • Workstation standard work, 5S, and kanban material flow.

After the NUMMI joint venture was dissolved the simulator became available and the Center for Employee Development (CED) purchased it.  CED, Lean Frontiers and the TWI Institute then collaborated to provide an experience that combines the incredible hands on realism of the LES with the proven TWI 10 Hour format of course delivery to teach the two Toyota Kata patterns in an unparalleled way.

Here’s what one experienced Lean practitioner and Kata coach had to say about the Skillpoint Kata experience.

“The LES is hands down the best simulated environment I have ever seen for teaching Lean or Kata. It is amazing to see how invested people become in their roles on the assembly line and in reaching target conditions and the challenge for the week. It becomes very easy for people to see how practicing Kata has the potential to create a culture of continuous improvement and how Kata relates to their businesses. Almost everyone gained a deeper understanding of “Lean” from working in the environment even if that wasn’t the focus. I can see how the NUMMI employees learned so quickly.  The TWI 10 hour structure ensured that each participant understood both the IK and CK through practice and observation of others practicing. The quality of that practice was equivalent to the real world but the experiments and learning happened very quickly without the constraints of a typical business. The rate of learning is probably 5-10 times faster than daily coaching because of the number of cycles and intensity of the experience.”

Learning the Toyota Kata patterns is all about practicing. The better the practice the better the learning. What better practice than the way Toyota taught General Motors the TPS! Understanding the current condition, setting target conditions and obstacle identification are all enhanced by the realism. The gap between expected and actual is also larger because of the comparative complexity of the simulated environment. The larger the gap the more the learning and therefore the larger the insight into the real secret of Toyota Kata – the development of people’s capability in improving scientifically.

By Jamie Smith

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