The improvement kata is a systematic four-step routine aimed at achieving a goal. Its purpose is to foster scientific thinking and creativity to overcome organizational challenges. This process enables organizations to enhance their operational efficiency and adaptability.

The improvement kata establishes essential patterns to cultivate a culture of improvement. The four steps of the improvement kata are as follows:

  1. Comprehend the direction or challenges.
  2. Grasp the current conditions.
  3. Define the next target condition.
  4. Progress towards the target condition through iterative cycles.

Unlike haphazardly seeking improvement opportunities or relying on predictive processes, the improvement kata emphasizes iterative learning. It involves conducting rapid and small-scale experiments to rapidly advance organizational knowledge. Each team that embraces the improvement kata learns to adapt to their environment while pursuing new target conditions. Consistent practice of this process instills new habits and fosters a culture of continual improvement.

What is a Kata?

In Japanese, “kata” refers to a form and is often associated with martial arts. Katas represent patterns, habits, or routines that develop muscle memory. In martial arts, katas are choreographed sequences of movements or techniques practiced individually or in groups. Consistent practice of the kata helps ingrain the techniques into muscle memory.

Likewise, the improvement kata encourages practitioners to consistently follow the same four-step pattern to approach goals systematically and creatively, eventually cultivating a culture of continual improvement.

Implementing the improvement of Kata

Typically, individuals fulfilling one of two roles complete the steps of the improvement kata. The learner, responsible for developing systematic plans, establishes target conditions and strives to reach them. The learner receives support from coaches who guide and teach them through their coaching kata.

The first three steps constitute the planning phase, where the organization’s knowledge, desired destination, and the necessary target conditions are determined.

In the initial step, learners identify their overarching goal. This requires an understanding of the organization’s direction and challenges. It begins with a quantifiable strategic vision, resulting in a general concept rather than a list of daily actions. Daily actions are determined by breaking down challenges into smaller components.

The second step involves defining the current conditions, and understanding how the current processes and operations function. A thorough analysis is necessary to gain insight into the current performance.

Step three encompasses defining the next target condition, typically involving addressing challenges to achieve the desired objective. Setting a challenging yet attainable goal is crucial. Learners must determine the desired performance in terms of processes, operations, or task completion rates. A target date should also be established, such as one week or three months. Potential obstacles should be identified and documented.

Step four represents the execution phase. This phase entails learning cycles where learners rapidly adjust and make changes. Iterations are employed to work towards the target condition, addressing obstacles one by one. Daily experiments are conducted to test hypotheses and learn from encountered issues. New information emerges, leading to the identification of the next target condition. Completion dates remain in focus.

Once the target condition or completion date is achieved, the kata coach engages in discussions with the learners, reflecting on lessons learned. Subsequently, the improvement kata steps are repeated.

Improvement Kata vs. Toyota Kata vs. Coaching Kata

The improvement of the Kata originates from the concept of the Toyota Kata. Mike Rother introduced this term to illustrate to American manufacturers how Toyota practiced continuous improvement. Further insights into this concept can be found in the book “Toyota Kata.” The term “kata” was adopted to mirror Toyota’s practices. The Toyota kata constitutes not only the improvement kata but also the coaching kata.

The coaching kata serves as the routine used to teach the improvement kata. It plays a supporting role for learners, challenging them within each step while ensuring a focused and deliberate approach. The coaching kata may involve a second coach who observes the learner’s cycles with the primary coach and provides feedback.