About Toyota Kata

The Roots of Toyota Kata

Toyota Kata is a term coined by Mike Rother in Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results. Kata, a Japanese word for a pattern practiced to learn a skill, has been traditionally applied to the martial arts and now is taking root in organizations. Mike’s extensive research into Toyota’s management practices yielded unexpected discoveries that challenged how we traditionally thought about improvement, subsequently leading to the Toyota Kata movement.

Toyota Kata is quickly gaining momentum and recognition as a missing link in the sustainability of a Lean business strategy and continuous improvement. It is an underlying element and reason for the success of the Toyota Production System (TPS). Kata embeds scientific thinking (PDCA) into the fabric of the company. It is not a tool to be deployed as needed. Toyota Kata establishes a culture of continuous improvement and problem solving; it becomes the natural reflex when facing everyday problems and instills an instinct to seek and pursue process improvements on a daily basis.

There are two Katas at work in an organization – the Improvement Kata and the Coaching Kata. The Coaching Kata drives the Improvement Kata; it provides forward momentum. Coaches - usually managers, supervisors and team leaders - guide employees through a series of experiments in pursuit of moving from the current condition toward a target condition. Both Katas are learned by doing them under the guidance of a mentor.

Although Toyota Kata's roots are in manufacturing, it has rapidly spread into healthcare generating impressive results. 

The Improvement Kata

Through practice, the pattern of a Kata becomes second nature. Little concentration is needed; it comes easily. An Improvement Kata is a pattern of thinking - a systematic way of thinking in order to improve. Once a pattern of thinking for problem solving is internalized, focus can shift to the actual process of keeping customers happy. While not having a pattern of thinking keeps focus on the problem solving method itself, and that is a great difference!

  1. Understanding where we need to be in the medium-to-long term and why there is an imperative to get there
  2. Realizing where we are right NOW – the Current Condition
  3. Setting ourselves a series of Target Conditions in getting there
  4. Then, removing obstacles along the way that are stopping us from reaching the target state

This pattern is the way to find the VITAL few problems and obstacles instead of working on the TRIVIAL many! (Joseph Juran) Therefore, it is much more efficient and effective than solely focusing on the elimination of waste, which was previously seen as the best way for continuous improvement.

Learn more about the skill of experimenting (Step 4) in Improvement Kata in this webinar »

The Coaching Kata

The Coaching Kata is the pattern of questions the coach will ask every time they have contact with the Learner, the person doing the improvement work. Doing this ensures that people learn by doing and creates a culture of forever striving and learning. Research is clear that striving toward a meaningful condition is highly motivating and fulfilling. The Coaching Kata gives managers and leaders a way to systematically strive toward target conditions by best use of people’s capabilities.