What Toyota Kata is
The Toyota Kata is a management system and universal model of creativity, developed by Mike Rother, who studied the management routines behind Toyota’s success in terms of adaptation and continuous improvement.
Through a method of teaching all employees how to use the basic tool of scientific thought, the Toyota Kata transforms the company into a true learning organization that knows how to find and develop the appropriate solutions to the specific problems it has to deal with, and is able to face with success and confidence the uncertainty of future challenges.
Therefore, through the development and empowerment of individuals and teams, this approach enables the company to achieve apparently impossible results and to make continuous daily improvement that is sustainable and aligned with the corporate strategy.
Kata: create the habit of improvement
As neuroscience shows, in order to create or change the culture of a team or organisation, or to develop new ways of thinking, people need to practise targeted behaviours. Mike Rother called them “kata“, borrowing the term from martial arts. He identified two “kata” that support the culture of learning and continuous improvement:
The Improvement Kata enables people to improve and reach new challenges in a scientific and systematic way. Briefly, it proceeds towards sequenced short-term objective conditions in the direction of a more general medium-long term challenge, overcoming the obstacles encountered, through experimentation with small fast steps (“PDCA cycles”).
The Coaching Kata provides managers with a standardized and effective way to purposefully teach their people the Improvement Kata, as real “coaches” of the method.
A “better” model of improvement!
Often in companies, even those “mature” in lean transformation, the model of improvement has limits and weaknesses. To name two, improvement is not an integral part of everyday work, but is carried out as extraordinary event and periodic project, and it is therefore difficult to sustain the results. Moreover, companies often just implement tools or solutions, without assessing whether they are really necessary and effective in the pursuit of strategic objectives.
Thanks to the Toyota Kata, it is possible to develop a more efficacious and sustainable improvement model characterized mainly by:
- Improvement focused on objectives (purpose-driven), which enables a link between operations and strategy
- Daily improvement, where at least a small “step” is implemented every day towards the defined process goal
- Simple improvement, applicable and accessible to any company and to everyone in the company
- Scientific improvement, based on the experimental iterative approach, which limits risks and costs, and at the same time stimulates the involvement and creativity of people
- Joint improvement reinforced by continuous learning, through the PDCA dynamics and reflection
- Cross improvement (content-free) and replicable everywhere, as it is based on a method that is not limited to specific processes, products or technologies, but is applicable to any situation (the “what” varies from time to time, but the “how” is always the same).
Making uncertainty an opportunity to grow
The economic context is perhaps emerging from an era where the main challenges concerned efficiency, and entering an era where the challenges are broader and more complex.
Traditional managerial methods try to confine reality to certainty, which is only apparent, while future methods should be more oriented towards making individuals and organizations effective and positive in managing uncertainty.
If the teams have an effective method, such as the Improvement Kata, to proceed through unknown territory, they will be able to activate and channel their own creativity. More importantly, the unknown, the obstacles and the changes they will encounter will not be seen as threats but as opportunities to learn and improve.
To develop such an approach, it is essential that managers, at every level, develop coaching expertise to enhance the skills of their people, not providing them with instructions or solutions but rather methodological support that makes them proactive and self-effective.