Toyota Kata

From eliminating waste to streamlining operations, Lean’s entire philosophy is about driving continuous improvements and sustaining the results. Unfortunately, achieving incremental gains without backsliding into old habits is easier said than done, even with the right processes and Lean tools in place.

Toyota Kata is a methodology designed to take on Lean’s biggest challenge by changing the way workers think and solve problems.

Below, we’ll take a look at the core elements of Toyota Kata and how it can be used to drive meaningful change through regular practice.

What Is the 4 Step Improvement Kata Process?

  1. Understand the direction or challenge: In this first step we determine the problem we are trying to solve.
  2. Grasp the current condition: Once we define the challenge, we need to understand not only what we know to be true now, and also what we do not yet know. Put another way, we attempt to deeply understand the current condition.
  3. Establish the next target condition: Using an American football analogy, if the "challenge" is to score a touchdown...the target condition may very well be to get a first down. In other words, the target condition brings us one step closer to the challenge.
  4. Experiment against obstacles: Once a target condition is established, we then identify the obstacles in our way. These obstacles allow us to define, and run experiments against them in order to learn what works, and what doesn't.

Our Toyota Kata resources will get you started with this invaluable tool in no time. You will learn about Toyota Kata, have access to videos, podcasts, and more! Also be sure to download the free coaching kata cards.

What is Toyota Kata?

Toyota Kata is a systematic approach for developing continuous improvement habits that stick. The term “Toyota Kata” comes from Lean expert Mike Rother’s management book, Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Results. Rother spent six years observing Toyota’s continuous improvement process in action. His book builds on Toyota’s process, but adapts lessons learned from the production line into an improvement strategy you can apply to just about any process.

Toyota Kata Definition

Toyota Kata is, obviously, a mashup of the words “Toyota” and “Kata.” As mentioned above, the methodology was adapted from the Japanese carmaker’s now-famed continuous improvement model. Kata is a Japanese word for “daily practice,” “pattern,” or “small routine.” Katas are structured exercises that aim to develop skills through ongoing practice.

Kata routines are often compared to activities like riding a bike, driving, or typing, which require a specific skill and mindset but can be done with little cognitive effort once you’ve mastered the basics.

The idea behind Toyota Kata is that by practicing improvement routines consistently, the process becomes second nature. Over time, you’ll develop a scientific approach to thinking critically, solving problems, and making quick decisions about what comes next.

The Toyota Kata framework turns scientific thinking into a practical skill anyone, and any organization, can learn through the deliberate practice of a four step learning and discovery process. By following the Toyota Kata structure, we will elegantly move from our current state, to our desired future state. This structure is broken down into two practice routines.

  1. The Improvement Kata
  2. The Coaching Kata

An important note, is that this is not a problem solving methodology. Instead, it is meant to develop the habitual scientific thinking patterns necessary to effectively carry out problem solving.

Coaching Kata vs. Improvement Kata

Toyota Kata aims to improve organizations’ management processing through the use of two types of Kata: Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata.

Improvement Kata helps individual learners develop a scientific approach to problem-solving. Here, learners work toward the desired outcome through a series of four steps:

  1. Understand the Direction or Challenge. Here, you’ll determine what problem you’re trying to solve or what you hope to achieve.

  2. Grasp the Current Condition. Next, you’ll take stock of the situation to determine where there are gaps in your knowledge. Ask yourself, “What do I not know?”

  3. Establish the Next Target Condition. Then, identify the next target condition. This represents the first major milestone and what needs to happen for you to get there: What obstacles are currently in the way? What will you need to learn?

  4. Experiment Against Obstacles. At this stage, you’ll run experiments against the obstacles you’ve identified. That doesn’t mean throwing random ideas at the problem and hoping something sticks. It’s about developing a hypothesis, testing it, and learning from your results.

Toyota Coaching Kata refers to a set of routines that aims to help managers develop coaching skills, as many lack experience coaching others. Coaching Kata also includes guiding learners through the Improvement Kata cycle. Essentially, Toyota Coaching Kata builds on the idea that learning and coaching go hand-in-hand, working together to facilitate collaboration.

What Are the 5 Coaching Kata Questions?

Coaches provide guidance, not solutions, and use a series of five questions to help learners successfully overcome obstacles and develop confidence.

The Five Toyota Kata Questions turn the four steps from the improvement process info questions that point toward a specific, achievable goal.

  1. What is the target condition?
  2. What is the actual condition right now?
  3. What obstacles are preventing you from achieving the target condition?
  4. What is Your Next Step? What Do You Expect to Happen?
  5. When can we see what was learned from taking that step?

There are also also four questions you will ask to reflect on the last step taken:

  1. What did you plan as your last step?
  2. What were you expecting?
  3. What actually happened?
  4. What did you learn?

How Do You Teach the Improvement Kata?

One thing athletes have in common with those learning the Improvement Kata is that both need a good coach.

More importantly, Kata Coaches need to have a consistent routine for teaching the Improvement Kata. This routine is clearly defined with the Coaching Kata.

The Kata coach uses five coaching questions during each coaching cycle. The learner responds to these questions by sharing what they have learned since the last coaching session. Coaching sessions usually last around 10 minutes and need to happen on a regular, often daily, basis.

Kata Improvement Slide01
Example Kata Coaching Card

Toyota Kata Online Video Course

As part of our growing School of Lean library of courses, Toyota Kata - Practice Makes Progress, will guide you from the very beginning of Kata learning to being able to implement your own Kata experiments within a few days.

Through this course you will learn how to make lasting change, and importantly, where to start making your improvements.

Kata in the Classroom

The 4-step Improvement Kata makes for some great classroom exercises for participants of all ages! Watch our free Kata in the classroom videos to see how to run your own KiC events. Also make sure to download all of the materials from Mike Rother's Kata in the Classroom website.


How to Practice Toyota Kata in Your Own Organization

As you can see, Toyota Kata offers a structured approach for implementing a sustainable improvement culture.

Here are a few things to consider before getting started.

  • Early on, familiarize learners with the Toyota Improvement Kata routine by applying the four steps and five Toyota Kata questions to a simple task.

  • Initially, your strategy won’t include the Toyota Coaching Kata, as you won’t have any experienced coaches to guide the process. Instead, participants can take turns playing the “learner” and the “coach,” allowing them to develop both skills.

  • Eventually, middle managers should fill this role as they interact directly with frontline workers every day.

  • Develop a process for measuring program performance and skills development. You’ll want to track individual progress based on the length of PDCA cycles and their progress toward professional and company goals.

Gemba Academy’s Toyota Kata online training series will teach you how to implement this critical Lean strategy into your daily workflow, one small step at a time.

Watch the first installment in this module for free to get a feel for our approach to online learning.

Toyota Kata Podcasts

Our free Kata podcasts provide real world insights into practicing Kata.

Gemba podcast mikerother

How to Teach Kata in the Classroom

The tables are turned as Mike Rother interviews Ron Pereira about his experiences teaching Kata in the Classroom.

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Gemba podcast emielvanest

How to Change Your Culture with Toyota Kata

Emiel van Est discusses the vital role of culture in a continuous improvement journey, and how Kata can be used to sustain your success.

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Gemba podcast mercyhealth

How to Think Scientifically in Healthcare

Maurene Stock and Katie Melching shed some light on their lean journey at Mercy Health Muskegon.

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Gemba podcast stephenderksen

How to Think Scientifically

Stephen Derksen discusses how to start thinking scientifically using Toyota Kata.

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Gemba podcast 212 brandonbrown

How to Combine TWI, Kata, and a Kaizen Event

Brandon Brown talks about how his team have brought together multiple methods to create an effective learning system.

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Gemba podcast 199 drewlocher

How to Understand Your Current Condition

Drew Locher discusses how to not rush to countermeasures before fully understanding your current condition.

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Podcast Ga04

Leveraging the Toyota Kata Approach to Learning & Coaching

Hear from Michael Lombard on how his hospital leverages Kata for learning and coaching.

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Gemba podcast 109 brandonbrown

How to Leverage Toyota Kata

Consultant Brandon Brown shares his knowledge of Toyota Kata with us, and explains how it compliments TWI.

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Podcast Ga138

How to Use Kata to Create Service Excellence

Author and lean practitioner Karyn Ross discusses Coaching Kata, and continuous improvement in a service context.

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Podcast Ga144

How to Apply Toyota Kata

Amy Mervak, Chief Quality and Compliance Officer at Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan, discusses how she and her team have been able to apply Kata.

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Podcast Ga152

TWI, Kata, and Respect for People

Skip Steward and Brandon Brown share their insights from the 2017 KataCon / TWI Summits.

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Podcast Ga155

Toyota Kata and the Power of Networking

Learn about Christopher's Kata journey.

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Podcast Ga187

How to Leverage the Improvement & Coaching Katas

Hear what makes Kata so valuable from Kata expert Mark Rosenthal.

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Podcast Ga188

How to Understand the Components of Kata

Kata expert Brandon Brown returns to the podcast to provide a comprehensive breakdown of both the improvement and coaching katas.

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Listen to more great improvement podcasts at gembapodcast.com


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