Kata: Your Approach to Daily Continuous Improvement

By: James A. D’Agostino, CEO, MEP Center Director

In last quarter’s edition, I wrote about Kata and its ability to transform organizations through the development of a culture of daily continuous improvement. With the continued headwinds that we’re all facing on multiple fronts, we need systematic, scientific ways of thinking and acting to achieve our goals and sustain improvements. This quarter, I want to expand more on Kata’s four-step scientific pattern and discuss its relationship with Lean.

As previously discussed, the four-step scientific pattern is as follows: 1- Set the direction or challenge for the organization. 2- Grasp the current conditions. 3- Establish your next target condition that represents a step toward the direction or challenge. 4- Conduct experiments to achieve that next target condition. When you successfully reach the next target condition, you establish another incremental target condition that represents yet another step toward the direction or challenge for the organization. Here are some additional key points about each step within the four-step scientific pattern:

Step-1: We often face challenges in life. But there’s no need to stress, because you don’t need to get all of the way there right away. A challenge often even gives us a useful sense of direction.

Step-2: It’s important to understand where you currently are before you set your next goal. Don’t pull goals randomly out of the air. A team should feel like its goals are meaningful.

Step-3: Break a big challenge down into smaller goals. Set an easier and closer goal that’s on the way to your challenge. When you get there, then you can set the next goal.

Step-4: You never know in advance exactly how you’ll achieve a goal. We need to test the ideas that we have, and a good way to reach a goal is through rapid experimentation. Try something, see what happens, and then adjust based upon what you learn. To learn from an experiment, you should write down what you expect and what actually happens so you can compare those two things.

So how do traditional Lean tools fit in with Kata and this scientific pattern? The great news is that Lean and Kata play well together. The obstacles that organizations identify through the effective use of the scientific pattern are overcome by the use of traditional Lean tools such as 5S, Kanban, TPM, Standardized Work, and others. However, when the scientific pattern is followed properly, the Lean tools are utilized only when they are needed. This scientific pattern of continuous improvement eliminates “recreational” activities that may, or may not, be an obstacle standing in between you and your challenge or direction. It also shifts an organization from a mindset of “what can we do today” to “what do we need to do today” to get closer to realizing their challenge or direction.

Once this routine is practiced enough, it becomes second nature. When employees at all levels of an organization are performing in this systemic manner, it quickly transforms into a high-performance culture able to tackle any obstacle it encounters. Scientific thinking is a basis for successfully pursuing seemingly unattainable goals in complex systems. This type of thinking also enables teams to make decisions close to the action and maneuver effectively and efficiently. These are all valuable skills in today’s hectic world.

A team that is pursuing continuous improvement will do well with Kata for developing new behaviors, habits, and culture, especially at the beginning of their journey. Kata is an incredibly powerful and transformative approach to daily continuous improvement. TDO’s team is fully certified to help manufacturers learn and implement these skills and develop the necessary coaches to sustain the habits. Reach out today to learn more and schedule a free consultation.