Toyota Kata--a structured approach for creating a culture of continuous learning and improvement--had its beginnings in manufacturing. The word Toyota refers to the Japanese carmaker’s renowned production system methods and tools. A Kata is a routine practiced so its pattern becomes a habit that over time gives workers new skills.
Lisa Rawcliffe, a certified Training Within Industry (TWI) trainer, recently spoke at a CMTC webinar about how Toyota Kata gives manufacturers a powerful tool to accelerate and streamline problem-solving on the front line. The methodology gives supervisors the skills to mentor employees and help them develop the habit of using scientific thinking to achieve the team’s target goals.
Kata Pattern: What Comes First?
The cycle begins with the Planning Phase:
- Understand the direction: What challenge are you striving to overcome? What changes are happening in today’s environment that could make current capabilities less valued? What does success look like six months to three years from now?
- Grasp the current condition: What is the actual current condition? What are the facts and data?
- Establish the target condition: On the way to the target condition, where do you want to be next?
The Executing Phase is where a series of quick experimentations happen.
- Identify obstacles and iterate toward the target condition: What obstacles are preventing you from reaching the target condition? Which ones are you addressing now? Conduct rapid experiments to overcome these obstacles and move from the current condition to the target condition.
- Daily coaching cycles with five questions: The supervisors coach the employees and give procedural guidance. The question-and-answer exchanges can be documented in an experiment record template, but paper or a whiteboard is just as effective. It’s not record-keeping that’s important, it’s the learning achieved throughout the Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) cycle.
The Five Questions
The supervisors adopt a mentoring pattern to help develop their employees’ capabilities for the scientific thinking that characterizes the process. During their daily coaching sessions, they ask the same five questions:
- What is the target condition?
- What is the actual condition?
- What obstacles do you think are preventing you from reaching the target condition?
- Given what you have learned, what is your next step?
- How quickly can we see what you have learned from this?
Why is it important to repeat the five questions? When the employees repeat that same patterns over and over again, it becomes easier and easier to think scientifically. Such thinking becomes a habit.
Toyota Kata Outcomes
Organizations using Toyota Kata acquire a pattern of thinking and acting scientifically to achieve their goals. Outcomes include increased capacity for innovation, employee engagement and teamwork, and improved responsiveness and adaptability. In addition, the process creates pull for learning and for applying continuous improvement methods that are going to have the best impact for achieving goals.