Mike Rother Overview of Toyota Kata

This is a 5 minute edit of the presentation Mike Rother made at the UK Lean summit.

It is a succinct summary of interaction between a coach (leader) and learner (someone working on improving a process).

My thoughts are below the video…

OK – here are some things I have learned with these methods “in the wild.”

Most organizations I have been working with can’t take on 1-3 year challenges and stay the course for that duration. The horizons are too far for them to see what is possible within that kind of time frame and stay the course.

I have been trying 3-4 month time horizons for initial challenges in organizations where everyone is learning the basics at all levels. That gives them an opportunity to practice with a horizon that is less likely to be derailed by a sudden change in direction during that time. Eventually, as they develop capability, they can extend the time horizon and morph these practice challenges into something more formal, linked to the business plan.

Middle managers like to leap onto the coaching questions much too early – before they are capable of actually coaching. The coaching questions are seductive because they are written down and structured.

The PDCA process is much more nuanced, but it must be mastered before attempting to coach. Why? Because the coaching process is application of PDCA toward the learner’s development.

While it is OK to round-robin coaching and actual process improvement, everyone has to work together to reflect and learn.

In addition, those middle managers tend to try to leap into coaching before they have an internally set non-negotiable sense of “True North” – driving toward better and better flow.

When a middle manager is taking on the role of the “learner” there is a great temptation for him to delegate tasks to others, and get reports. This is status quo, and does nothing at all to develop capability.

Like everything else we do in the West, or at least in the USA, we try to get there fast by skipping the basics.

Make no mistake – you don’t “implement Toyota Kata.”

You use it as a structure to build foundational capability and new thinking patterns.

Those patterns are only developed through practice, and deliberate reflection on the management process itself.

I have also seen an organization that is “getting it” pretty quickly. The difference is that they are all overtly in “we are just learning this” mode, and willing to make mistakes and learn from them vs. trying to appear to be competent from the get-go.

Mike Rother has other videos on YouTube as 734Mike.

6 Replies to “Mike Rother Overview of Toyota Kata”

  1. Could you elaborate a little more on the behaviors you’re seeing from the coaches? How in particular are they failing to grasp PDCA, and why? What happens when they try to use the coaching questions without being able to coach?

    1. Phil-
      What happens is the “coach” asks the coaching questions, but doesn’t have enough context to ask follow up probing questions, reset a team that is off course, etc.

      They ask the questions, and don’t deeply process the answers.

  2. Mark,
    Have you seen this method turn the tide in the minds of people who are stuck in the “this is just the flavor of the month” mode. Since Kata is not solutions oriented, I would think it would be a better approach when it comes to changing mindsets. However, I suppose when you start with a vision like “1×1 flow at takt” for example, immediately people starting questioning along the lines of “Why that vision?” It seems there would still have to be some kind of common understanding in order to “rally the herd”.

    1. John-
      The short answer to your question is “Yes I have.”

      The longer answer is that the insight is more likely with leaders who have been struggling to make it all stick.

      At an even higher level, there needs to be a context that goes beyond just making the mechanics work. What *culture* are you striving for?

  3. The problem in so many organizations is the constant restructuring and the mobility in management. By the time your beginning to learn on Kata a new coach and plan is introduced. While those at the very top believes Kata is the same it never really is. Most organizations read the books, say the words but seldom internalize and drive the meaning effectively.

  4. Great article Mark. The challenge is how to share the “nuances” with those that are just starting out. An eagerness to learn is a great start!

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