Lean Kata: Daily Improvement Practice Routine

After unsuccessfully trying to implement lean, most managers end up blaming the workers as being against lean. While resistance is to be expected in any change program, the reasons for lean implementation failure are many. But the most ignored aspect when trying to implement lean is the psychology of change within the organisation.

Everybody behaves in a certain way because they have developed habits. The habits have grown from daily actions that have over time become engrained in their thinking.

The same applies in the workplace. How people work is a result of thinking and acting habits they have developed over time. Trying to change those habits requires a scientific approach.

What is Toyota Kata

Many companies that are doing lean often fall into the trap of trying to copy Toyota without understanding the underlying managerial routines that make the company so successful. What often results is a poorly implemented program that leads people to conclude that lean cannot work in their organisation.

There is common thread of behaviour in Toyota in how they think and act. This is evident at all levels of the organisation. A closer look at all Toyota facilities reveals that they all seem to be working towards a bigger goal. Their daily activities involve looking at where they are in relation to the goal and setting smaller goals that act as stepping stones. This is done iteratively with continuous self-correction based on feedback data.

The Toyota Kata is a methodology premised on the idea that for improvement activities to be successful, they have to become a habit. By daily deliberate practice of improvement using targets, experiments and feedback more progress can be made towards attaining organisational goals.

Toyota Kata Improvement Steps

In Toyota, there is an overall direction or challenge — something big they are going for. They then try to understand where they are in the current moment in terms of the team or process. Then they try to define where they want to be within a certain time frame. After this, they conduct experiments or PDCA cycles towards that next target condition.

The Toyota managers use the Kata daily on the worker so that they may develop the right mindset to navigate the uncertainty they face when trying to innovate and improve. This helps them achieve their goals though they may not have all the information as they start their improvement efforts.

One misconception of lean manufacturing is that Toyota’s goal is eliminating waste. Ask anyone practicing lean today and they will tell you that is all about eliminating waste. The truth is that at Toyota waste reduction is just a result of them doing continuous improvement — it is not the objective.

What is happening is that at Toyota they are shooting towards a particular goal and work hard through experimentation to reach the goal. The results of this will be a reduction in waste and other benefits that come with lean. Most of the lean is done today is wrong — people have taken an outcome of Toyota’s process (waste reduction) and made it their process.

As lean practitioners, we go about improvement projects without considering their impact on the attainment of the set objectives. We sometimes do not ask whether what we are doing will help us reach our next target condition. Target conditions help us to distinguish between the things we HAVE to do to reach our goals and the things you CAN do, but don’t have to. To know the things you need to improve, you must have a target condition.

To set the target condition, one must do a bit of analysis and planning. You must know what the overall goal is as well as your current condition (where you are) to be able to set the next target condition. This is important because you cannot set goals without understanding where you are.

At this stage, common practice is that teams will go out and make action plans on how they intend to reach their goals. This is a mistake — you cannot plan for what you don’t know will happen. There exists a knowledge threshold where we have no more facts and data — all we can do at this point is guess. It is important to see your knowledge threshold so that you can seek out the missing data and facts.