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Toyota Kata : Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results

I was pointed to the Toyota Kata website by Michel Löhr. As I read the few pages and downloads on the website I became more and more intrigued, particularly with the idea of deliberate practice for improvement – true continuous improvement.

Below are sections I highlighted in the book as I read it. For me this seems far more useful than any review I could write.


outstanding financial results and long-term organization survival follow best from continuous and robust process improvement and adaptation —not from driving people to achieve financial targets

definition of management: The systematic pursuit of desired conditions by utilizing human capabilities in a concerted way.

an effective management system will be one that keeps an organization adjusting to unpredictable, dynamic conditions and satisfying customers.

an organization’s collection of practices and principles at any point in time is an outcome that springs from its members’ routines of thinking and behavior.

focusing on developing daily behavior patterns is a leverage point because, as the field of psychology shows us, with practice, behavior patterns are changeable, learnable, and reproducible.

iterative “test it yourself” approach takes a lot of time but provides considerably deeper understanding and insight than can be gained through benchmarking or interviewing alone.

Toyota’s leaders may also be shaking their heads and thinking, “Sure, come have a look. But why are you so interested in the solutions we develop for our specific problems? Why do you never study how we go about developing those solutions?”

Whenever you visit us, you are simply looking at a solution we developed for a particular situation at a particular point in time.”

There are perhaps only three things we can and need to know with certainty: where we are, where we want to be, and by what means we should maneuver the unclear territory between here and there.

continuous improvement and adaptation: the ability to move toward a new desired state through an unclear and unpredictable territory by being sensitive to and responding to actual conditions

humans have a tendency to want certainty, and even to artificially create it, based on beliefs, when there is none.

definition of continuous improvement: it means that you are improving all processes every day.

any organized process naturally tends to decline to a chaotic state if we leave it alone

A key concept underlying kata is that while we often cannot exercise much control over the realities around us, we can exercise control over—manage—how we deal with them.

A kata is a means for keeping your thoughts and actions in sync with dynamic, unpredictable conditions

Any organization whose members can face unpredictable and uncertain situations (which are the norm) with confidence and effective action, because they have learned a behavioral routine for doing that, can enjoy a competitive advantage.

by definition, workshops are not at all the same as continuous improvement.

The longer the lists of action items and the more improvement projects under way, the more we feel like something positive is happening. In many cases, however, the opposite is true. There may appear to be a lot of motion, but there is little progress.

quality improvements people talk about are improvements in delivered quality, achieved by increasing inspection and sorting out more defects rather than improving the process to reduce the number of defects created.

“What do we need to do to improve this process?”

As they say at Toyota, “The shop floor is a reflection of management.”

You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction. —Alvin Toffler

vision should probably focus more on the customer, and broad-scale customer needs, than on ourselves.

one-piece flow means that parts move from one value-adding processing step directly to the next value-adding processing step, and then to the customer, without any waiting time or batching between those steps.

Toyota now refers to it as “one-by-one production,”

it is acceptable and perhaps even desirable for the vision to be a seeming dilemma and thus a challenge.

think of a target condition like a much shorter-term desired state that is more clearly defined than the distant vision.

Once a target condition is defined, it is not optional nor easily changeable. It stands. How to achieve that target condition is optional

Do not let financial calculations alone determine your direction, because then the organization becomes inward-looking rather than adaptive,
the ability of your company to be competitive and survive lies not so much in solutions themselves, but in the capability of the people in your organization to understand a situation and develop solutions.

GM’s managerial approach achieved great success in the market conditions that prevailed through the 1960s. In later years, under different conditions, the same management approach no longer worked as successfully.

People in an organization act rationally in a way that maximizes their success. Putting the emphasis on departmental output maximization, rather than on optimizing the overall flow for the customer, means that the natural interests of the departmental manager may come into conflict with the long-term survival interests of the company.

Not only are the centrally controlled divisions unable to adapt autonomously and quickly, but the decision makers in the central office are basing their decisions on inaccurate, after-the-fact quantitative abstractions.

there are plenty of different ways to achieve a quantitative outcome target, many of which have nothing to do with making real process improvement and moving the pieces of an organization in a common direction.

many of us are managing our companies with a logic that originated in the 1920s and 1930s,

At Toyota, such self-compensating flexibility in processes would strike fear in the hearts of managers because of all the problems that go unnoticed and unaddressed.

bullwhip effect, aka the “Forrester effect.” The latter states that any unevenness in assembly is increasingly amplified as the demand is transmitted to upstream processes.

Working around problems by making the same part here and there increases the number of variables and makes understanding the cause of problems considerably more difficult.

The invisible purpose of kanban is to support process improvement; to provide a target condition by defining a desired systematic relationship between processes, which exposes needs for improvement.

Anytime you start up a pull system, it will crash and burn within a short time. There will be glowing and charred pieces, so to speak.

“The purpose of kanban is to eliminate the kanban.”

rather that we do not want to see them because that would undermine the sense of certainty we have about how our factory is working.

it seems somewhat foolish to have thought that simply implementing a kanban system or leveling scheme, for example, would result in significant and continuous improvement.

Viewed in the light of moving toward the ideal state, having exactly the right number of kanban is not important at the start.

To want to know the precisely correct number of kanban at the start suggests that we are thinking in static rather than continuous improvement terms.

A target is an outcome, and a target condition is a description of a process operating in a way—in a pattern—required to achieve the desired outcome

We need to dig into the related processes themselves, set the next process target condition, and then tackle the obstacles that arise on the way to achieving that target condition.

Toyota’s improvement kata—including the use of target conditions—resembles how we tend to manage and behave in crisis situations. At such times, it’s even more important to focus hard and resourcefully on what you need to do to achieve a challenging condition within the time, budget, and other constraints.

A target condition describes a state that we want to have reached at some future point in time, on the way toward a longer-term vision.

some aspects of any target condition should be measurable,

A target condition should describe a desired condition, but not how you will get there

In most situations, however, it is not possible to fully see and understand the true current condition right away, and thus not possible to define a target condition in full detail up front.

begin with a well thought out but basic, less detailed definition of the target condition and add in detail as you move forward and learn

not mean changing the target condition as you move forward, but rather, fleshing it out.

call an initial, vague target condition a challenge

I have had good success guiding people to establishing target conditions that are no more than one to four weeks out,

Do not worry so much up front about finding the biggest obstacle before you begin.

the next step may not involve a countermeasure, but rather, getting more information through observation, data, or experiment.

“Why does this customer’s demand spike so much?”

It is easier to set a target condition than it is to achieve it.

It is very difficult to make predictions, particularly about the future. —Attributed to Niels Bohr

There is no need for lengthy theoretical discussion or opinions about further activities or steps beyond that,

The procedure or steps of experimentation are summarized by the well-known Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle

Deming’s lectures were delivered in the context of a way of thinking and managing, rather than simply as techniques.

Toyota later added the words “Go and See” to the middle of the PDCA wheel

A target condition, for example, is only a setup for conducting experiments.

Hypotheses can only be tested by experiment, not by intellectual discussion, opinion, or human judgment.

The moment of experience is the firmest reality. —Composer Benjamin Boretz

If we expect that everything can work as planned, then the effect is that we stop improving and adapting.

There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes. —R. Buckminster Fuller

We learn from failures because they reveal boundaries in our system’s current capability and horizons in our minds.

“What we should be asking ourselves is not will it work, but, let’s see what we need to do to make this work.”

The idea is to not stigmatize failures, but to learn from them.

“What is preventing the operators from working according to the standard?”

A target condition generally includes the following information: The steps of the process, their sequence and their times Process characteristics Process metrics Outcome metrics

Do it now, with whatever you have on hand

“It’s always ‘no problem’ until the end, and then we have a big problem.”

“Are we still working under a challenge here?” If not, then it may be time to define the next target condition.

even if we follow the work standard, a work process will tend to slip toward chaos if we leave it alone.

this is a different undertaking than trying to implement tools, techniques, or introduce a series of principles.

organizations that are able to improve constantly and systematically at this level should, in crowded market situations, realize a competitive advantage.

Metrics are abstractions made by man, while reality is made by nature.

The factory […] is treated like a “black box,” but of course a large amount of process performance data is utilized in Toyota plants; on thousands of charts, boards, documents, alarms, etc. However, this data is maintained near the place of occurrence, and leaders have to go to the process to get the information they need and understand the situation there.

There are currently no autonomous, self-directed teams at Toyota.

It’s the responsibility of team leaders to encourage and get improvement suggestions from their team members,

Do we want the operators to make parts, or do we want them to go into problem investigation? They cannot do both simultaneously.

classroom training and simulations cannot ensure change, mastery, and consistency.

Regardless of how much experience one has gained, it is unlikely that anyone can become so good at discerning the reality of a situation and applying the improvement kata that coaching will no longer be necessary.

because if a mentee fails, then it is the mentor who will get the scrutiny.

Leading the mentee to a solution would block the development of the mentee’s capability,

if the next step is unclear, then the answer is almost always, “Let’s go and see.”

if the countermeasure is not yet obvious, then it usually means that more study of the situation is necessary,

Artificially creating perfect solutions would disguise the true state of affairs and make it more difficult to understand what we need to do next to move our organization forward.

Management does not need to bring solutions to problems.

An A3 is a tool that is used within and in support of the mentor/mentee dialogue,

If there is no data, there is no basis for discussion.

even more important may be the experimentation, learning, and development we do for ourselves in our own situations.

If, then, along the way, making organizational adjustments is a necessary or useful countermeasure, that’s okay.

a parallel staff group will be powerless to effect change, and this approach has been proven ineffective in abundance.

It is useful to remind everyone that you are experimenting in order to see obstacles and to learn from them what you need to work on in order to achieve the target condition.

Thriving in the long term, the fundamental purpose of the Toyota organization, is to me a sign of good concerted use—good management—of our human ability and potential.

and—the conclusion is becoming unavoidable—some aspects of our prevailing management system need to be changed.

strive to develop a stable, leveled pacemaker process first

If a process is not stable, you will need to address this before trying to make other improvements,

overstaffing a process leads to even greater inconsistency,

NB: Thanks to Jon Jagger, whose idea I have unashamedly stolen.