Toyota Kata

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The Need for Kata

Organizations that understand and meet the constantly evolving needs of customers will be tomorrow’s winners. Consequently, providing the right product or service, at the right price, with high quality, and on-time delivery is the top priority.

That often means everything else, including improvement, comes second. But we must improve. No improvement means, at the very best, staying where we are. In this world, that won’t be enough to survive.

So how do we make improvement a top tier priority? Where do we start, on which improvements do we focus our attention, which get the finite resources? As suppliers of products and services, we need to develop improvement habits that both live and thrive in dynamic environments. Kata is the answer.  Read or download this 2 page document on Toyota Kata.

The Roots of Kata

Kata is a term coined by Mike Rother in Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results. Kata, a Japanese word for a pattern practiced to learn a skill, has been traditionally applied to the martial arts and now is taking root in organizations. Mike’s extensive research into Toyota’s management practices yielded unexpected discoveries that challenged how we traditionally thought about improvement, subsequently leading to the Kata movement.

Kata is quickly gaining momentum and recognition as a missing link in the sustainability of a Lean business strategy and continuous improvement. It is an underlying element and reason for the success of the Toyota Production System (TPS). Kata embeds scientific thinking (PDCA) into the fabric of the company. It is not a tool to be deployed as needed. Kata establishes a culture of continuous improvement and problem-solving; it becomes the natural reflex when facing everyday problems and instills an instinct to seek and pursue process improvements on a daily basis.

There are two Katas at work in an organization – the Improvement Kata and the Coaching Kata. The Coaching Kata drives the Improvement Kata; it provides forward momentum. Coaches – usually managers, supervisors and team leaders – guide employees through a series of experiments in pursuit of moving from the current condition toward a target condition. Both katas are learned by doing them under the guidance of a mentor.

“Thank you so much for extending to me the offer to participate yesterday.  I loved every bit of it!  The presenters were great, talked to me at my level and I walked away completely energized about how Kata can help my teams leapfrog into the future. I rarely find myself engaged for 8 hours in professional development; they typically lose me at lunch. However, the Kata workshop had me from the start and kept me in the moment the entire time. Kata is how we can develop our team and our culture!”
– Michael Allan, Director of Operations, American Meadows (referring to his summer 2021 Kata training experience) 

The Improvement Kata

Through practice, the pattern of a Kata becomes second nature. Little concentration is needed; it comes easily. An Improvement Kata is a pattern of thinking – a systematic way of thinking in order to improve. Once a pattern of thinking for problem solving is internalized, focus can shift to the actual process of keeping customers happy. While not having a pattern of thinking keeps focus on the problem solving method itself, and that is a great difference!

  1. Understanding where we need to be in the medium-to-long term and why there is an imperative to get there
  2. Realizing where we are right NOW – the Current Condition
  3. Setting ourselves a series of Target Conditions in getting there
  4. Then, removing obstacles along the way that are stopping us from reaching the target state


This pattern is the way to find the VITAL few problems and obstacles instead of working on the TRIVIAL many! (Joseph Juran) Therefore, it is much more efficient and effective than solely focusing on the elimination of waste, which was previously seen as the best way for continuous improvement.

Kata: Four Steps of the Improvement Kata

“Our mid-managers are working with and designing value streams to help with our space and capacity expansion, and our Kata efforts are expanding pretty organically.  We owe you great “thanks” for that.  It’s remarkable seeing how it moves things forward.” – Bill Church, President, Green Mountain Antibodies (referring to his company’s 2022 training and implementation of Improvement and Coaching Kata)

The Coaching Kata

The Coaching Kata is the pattern of questions the coach will ask every time they have contact with the Learner, the person doing the improvement work. Doing this ensures that people learn by doing and creates a culture of forever striving and learning. Research is clear that striving toward a meaningful condition is highly motivating and fulfilling. The Coaching Kata gives managers and leaders a way to systematically strive toward target conditions by best use of people’s capabilities.