What is Kata?

“Kata” is a method of practicing or a systematic way to do things. It is rooted in Japanese martial arts, where students spend a lot of time learning drills to improve certain moves. The correct technique can be learned by repeating the same movement repeatedly. The correct technique becomes part of muscle memory and then it becomes reflexive. When Toyota adopted this kata definition as part of their LEAN production system, it became a common business practice.

Mike Rother’s book of the same title was the first to use the term Toyota Kata. He described the core routines he observed at the Japanese auto manufacturer, which helped to sustain its improvement efforts. Rother’s book outlined how organizations can implement Toyota’s improvement strategies and reap the benefits by following structured habits, or ‘Katas.

There are two main Katas in the business world: the Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata. Both can be used to help companies develop an environment that encourages innovation and improvement. Employees and the entire organization will become accustomed to Katas if they are practiced on a regular basis. These routines can be repeated by individual employees, departments, or entire companies, allowing them to improve and progress.

Kata Implementation

The Kata method is a well-structured process that’s simple to follow. It is as simple as following the steps to ensure that your team can improve their capabilities. Although the Improvement and Coaching Katas are similar, they should be approached separately as each has different purposes. This section will discuss how each one can be applied in an organization.

Kata Implementation - Coaching Kata
Kata Implementation – Coaching Kata

Coaching Kata Implementation

This improvement policy doesn’t just focus on processes, it also considers people. The Coaching Kata is here to help. This second Kata helps employees develop the skills and abilities necessary to continue improving. It encourages creativity and problem solving, as well as teaches the mind how to think creatively. They get daily feedback from a mentor or coach, which allows them to make rapid improvements.

The Coaching Kata is based on five core questions. These questions provide a framework to make the approach simple to apply, repeat, scale, and scale. Coaching questions are just one tool that can help you in your LEAN transformation efforts. These are the five questions you need to ask as part of your coaching process.

  • What is the current condition?
  • What is the challenge or target condition?
  • Which obstacles prevent you from reaching your goal condition? Which one do you need to address right now?
  • What’s your next step?
  • How can we take that step and learn from it?

Employees are more likely to understand the challenge or direction they are facing and can focus their efforts accordingly. The next goal condition provides employees with a clear direction and a target to reach so they can tackle the project in smaller chunks. The introduction of Kata coaching cycles can be a fantastic way to improve manufacturing processes and achieve manufacturing excellence. This capability building is what gives organizations a competitive advantage. Staff who can invent can solve problems and produce innovative ideas. They can also deal with changes in market conditions. This cultural transformation is almost impossible to match by rivals.

Kata Implementation – Improvement Kata

Improvement Kata Implementation

People often ask us what kata is used for. It’s used for continuous improvement. It helps drive minor changes that result in large gains by focusing on habit formation at the organizational level. How do you choose which routines or habits to create? The Improvement Kata is here to help. This tool is designed to help companies set improvement goals and create strategies for reaching them.

To improve the Kata process, there are four stages that must be repeated to make consistent gains. These are:

  • Take stock of the moment – What is the situation or status right now?
  • Understanding the desired direction is key – what’s your goal or target condition?
  • You can conduct small experiments to test your ideas for the next challenge.
  • Next challenge: To move along the desired path.

This approach allows employees to experiment and test innovative ideas within their organization. This eliminates the stigma around failure and empowers employees to produce innovative solutions. Fear of making mistakes can seriously limit a company’s innovation potential. People who are afraid to try new things will keep doing the same thing they’ve done for years. However, taking calculated risks can help teams increase their innovation and improve their performance.

The Benefits of Kata Implementation

Companies can practice Katas to improve their skills and habits to make significant changes. They have a profound impact on both individuals and the entire organization. Katas are a framework that can be used to guide you in your quest for continuous improvements. This leads to higher efficiency, lower waste, and greater profitability.

The best thing about Katas is their ability to keep you ahead of your competition. Many companies copied Toyota’s LEAN manufacturing methods when they first gained fame. Although they saw improvements in business performance, they didn’t achieve the same success. Rother visited Toyota to find out more. Toyota wasn’t using the same solutions they used a few years ago. They were continuing to improve and innovate on what they did. They were able to find better solutions to problems and streamline their operations.

Rother realized that he was asking the wrong questions. Toyota’s success was not solely due to the tools it used. They had developed skills in their employees that allowed them to problem solve and innovate on a regular basis. They implemented Katas to educate and empower their employees to strive for continuous improvement. They were able to retain the entrepreneurial spirit that many companies lose over time.

Why is Kata Important?

The Kata method can be applied in many business settings and is well-known across a variety of industries. It can be used by any organization looking to improve its performance. It was originally developed for the automotive industry but can also be used in other operations and unrelated fields.

What is the Difference Between LEAN and Kata?

Kata and LEAN differ in many ways. The former is a tool, while the latter is a philosophy and practice. Both contribute to continuous improvement but in diverse ways. Kata will not replace or compete with LEAN, but it will complement it. It is possible to combine these concepts to create powerful results.

Each one serves a specific purpose in the improvement process. Kata can help employees develop skills by teaching them how to use each technique. It can help you establish routines and habits that will allow you to integrate them into your organization and create a culture of innovation.

Your staff will benefit from the help of Kata concepts to learn new methods and master LEAN techniques. They can practice the elements until they are proficient and then move on to the next. This increases the effectiveness of any LEAN tools that you might already use or wish to introduce. Kata offers employees, managers, leaders, and others a structured way to implement LEAN concepts. When we think about “what is Kata useful to”, we can add employee training or cultural change.

The Improvement Kata uses a scientific approach to address obstacles and goals. The PDCA (plan, do-check-act), model is used to test ideas and mitigate against risks. This allows staff to evaluate and test viable solutions before coming to solid conclusions. This allows for improvement ideas to be implemented quickly so businesses can reap the benefits faster.

LEAN is something that you do, whereas Kata can be something you do. The Improvement and Coaching Katas can help you to achieve LEAN results and increase your chances of success. They will speed up your adoption of LEAN practices and allow staff to learn the techniques faster, so you can see the results even quicker.

Final Words

Although Kata training is rooted in traditional martial arts, it has been extended to the business world. These concepts are a way to learn the basics of scientific thinking and acting and provide consistent practice. These concepts provide a systematic approach to what might seem like an impossible problem or goal. Kata improvement is the core of the practice, providing questions that support PDCA cycles. You can increase your chances of finding novel solutions and ideas by adopting scientific thinking. 

The Coaching Kata method provides continuous feedback and helps employees improve their skills. They are taught to identify and set goals, identify obstacles, and then devise the next steps. Empowering staff allows them to take the initiative in solving problems and to contribute to innovation within the organization.