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By Pavel Kukhnavets

Kata

How to implement Kata to make continuous improvement habitual in your business?

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It is crucial to understand which technique is the best one to address your specific business goal or challenge. It is not easy with so many different terms and improvement practices out there. Some approaches are well suited to training employees and developing their skills. Others look good for increasing profitability and streamlining operational processes. 

If you want to improve organizational practices, resolve current problems, or achieve changes in your business, this post will be definitely helpful. Besides, if your goal is Agile at scale, then you should read this text all the more.

In this post, we explore the Kata definition, its benefits, and how it differs from Lean. Let’s dive in!

Kata methodology

What Is Kata?

Kata is a structured way of doing things or practice. This concept assumes scientific thinking in order to train people’s daily skills needed for incremental continuous improvements. The principles of Kata remain the same no matter whether you use it in martial arts, for personal improvement, or for business objectives.

The roots of Kata come from Japanese martial arts. They were related to practicing drills with the aim to improve specific moves. 

The main idea is that when you repeat a movement on a consistent basis, the correct technique will be gradually mastered. This definition of Kata then turned into a mainstream business practice – all because Toyota that adopted it as part of its Lean production system.  

“Toyota Kata” as a term was first used by Mike Rother in his book of the same name. The author described the key routines that he had observed at the Japanese automotive manufacturer which contributed to its continuous improvement efforts. The book explained how companies could apply for the concept and benefit by following structured habits or Kata.

The Improvement Kata routine aims to solve problems in a more creative, meaningful, and directed way. This is achieved with a four-part model that includes understanding the direction or challenge, grasping the current condition, defining the target destination, and moving toward the target iteratively that reveals obstacles to overcome.

What are the types of Kata?

There are two Katas or practices in the business world:

  • the Coaching Kata
  • the Improvement Kata

They both help companies to enhance a culture of innovation and improvements. Practicing them on a consistent basis, routines are developed. They become habitual for individuals and the companies as a whole. By repeating these structured routines, individuals, departments, and entire organizations can progress and improve.

How Improvement Kata differs from Lean

What are the differences between Kata and Lean? Of course, Kata and Lean are different; however, they complement each other. 

They differ in many ways:

  • Lean refers to processes to be implemented.
  • Kata refers to techniques to be practiced.

Therefore, Toyota adopted Improvement Kata into its Lean production system and Kata became a mainstream business practice. When they both are combined, these concepts provide powerful results. 

Both Lean and Kata focus on enabling faster progress (but slightly different in their approaches).

You can deploy Kata at the individual level. It actually focuses on continual improvement and learning through experimentation. 

This is helpful for tackling problems with uncertainty. Lean principles help companies to improve processes and workflows to be able to extract the greatest value with minimal waste. 

Can Lean and Kata be used together?

Improvement Kata is about habits and techniques that teams can use to reinforce Lean principles. 

Even if these concepts focus on different things, they both came from Toyota. Therefore, they can be used together. 

According to the goal-oriented teachings of Kata, you should complete a task before moving to the next one. So, the process is continuously refined until it achieves the intended results. Therefore, greater organizational efficiency is achieved.

Kata method

Essential Benefits of Improvement Kata

Nowadays’ the tech environment requires solving challenges that are more complex than ever. Improvement Kata enables teams and individuals to solve these challenges efficiently. Mastery of this scientific, goal-oriented method of working will offer multiple benefits beyond a structured method of operations. Here are some of the most vivid benefits:

A single goal for the whole team

If teams share the same definition of success, more collaboration and productivity exist. People understand how they can contribute to a larger objective. Teams get a greater sense of ownership over their work and can strengthen their commitment to the overarching vision.

Experiments lead to results

The first step as the first decision always seems to be the greatest challenge. Nevertheless, if you adopt experimentation as a regular practice, you will decrease the uncertainty and get a vehicle towards your final destination. Hypotheses about how you can get to where you want to be will help. Also, initiate experiments to define if you are on the right way. 

Reducing waste

Working on small improvements can minimize your efforts and time wasted on activities that do not contribute to the solution.

Improvement Kata reduces waste for managers, developers, and entire teams. For example, the development team should not focus on creating extra features that are nice but unnecessary. The process that is milestone-oriented will help them to ensure that they are building with intent.

Improvement Kata also benefits teams as a whole by promoting effective feedback, constant communication, and continuous delivery.

How to Implement Improvement Kata: 6 Consistent Steps to Follow

The foundation of Improvement Kata consists of the coordination between what you think will happen, what will actually happen, and what is learned from the discrepancies. The problem is that not all of us think like this. Integrating Improvement Kata into the workflow is a process that requires consistent and mindful practice.

1. Finding your reference point

Clearly understanding the direction or challenge is the initial step you should make. This will help to inform the planning and experimentation phases. If it is not easy for you to determine what your guide or reference point is, consider how your team might contribute to your company’s larger goals or how you can use your team’s strengths to turn a particular vision into a reality.

2. Establishing the current condition

Before defining your reference point, take time to document current workflows and processes, review where your team stacks up against proper metrics, and evaluate the team’s knowledge infrastructure. Try to be objective, to be able to identify meaningful steps towards your ultimate goal.

3. Selecting the next target

By getting a clear understanding of current systems and processes, you will be able to define where you want to be after your next iteration (or the next target condition). Your next target should be a single change that can be achieved in a matter of sprints and bring you closer to your reference point.

4. Running experiments until reaching the target

With the vision of your next target, you will be able to form a hypothesis about how you can get there. Think about all the ideas on where to start and what to try, and don’t be afraid to fail.

5. Getting to the goal using the fastest way

You will need speed even if it means using clever hacks along the way. You will either get confirmation that it can be done, or you find unforeseen challenges to solve. If it doesn’t work, you can turn it into an opportunity for learning.

6. Polishing the rough edges

If it works, move backward to clean up the corners you’ve cut, and smooth out any rough edges that need to be refined.

The example of Improvement Kata

Let’s imagine you are striving to create a new product based on a fresh idea, but you’re not sure whether it will work. Instead of trying to get every layer and working out incrementally expanding it until its full functionality, try to select a target that provides value and brings you closer to the system you envisioned. 

Perhaps, you will have unknowns, but you will learn a lot from challenges and experiment with different ideas to find the better one that will rock. After that, reevaluate where you are, choose the next target, iterate, and analyze your progress.

Why is Kata useful?

You may apply the Improvement Kata approach in many business situations. The method is really popular with a range of industries. Any company that wants to continuously improve can implement it as a tool to do so. 

Although Kata came from the automotive industry, different teams use it for other operations or even unrelated fields. For example, in:

  • Heavy machinery
  • Industrial manufacturing
  • Healthcare
  • Airplane manufacturing and design
  • Food and beverage, etc.

The role of digital continuous improvement tools

The continuous improvement becomes easier with an innovative digital platform designed for this aim. Using a management dashboard, you can track the performance of your teams and identify the people making the biggest difference at your company.

Appropriate software will guide your teams on the exact steps to follow to execute their own ideas. It will let them capture the entire process, from identifying a problem to implementing an efficient solution. 

Remember that the time of your team is too valuable to be wasted in complex explanations and handmade drawings.

Conclusion

Improvement Kata is aimed to encourage a supportive company culture, where people are enthusiastic to think innovatively for better business results. The method leads to producing a dynamic business that is flexible and adaptive.

Kata drives results through problem-solving and continuous improvement. It connects business and science to improve bottom-line results. This approach has worked for Toyota, and, be sure, it will work for you!