The Improvement Kata: Part 2

The following is the second entry into a series of ongoing posts that dive into the Improvement Kata and how its methods can help improve your lean culture.

A Kata State of Mind

Now that we have a basic understanding of the ideology behind the improvement kata, we can now jump into the nuts and bolts of the process.

Everyday we face obstacles and challenges that we are forced to react to. It’s in our nature to think the best way to handle these situations, is to deliberate over the correct answers and arrive at a consensus.

The problem with that, is it’s an uncreative, unscientific approach that only works in simple cases that are familiar to you. It does nothing to expand our learning capabilities and handling of more complex situations.

The improvement kata is a systematic and scientific approach that activates and mobilizes people’s creative capabilities to overcome the obstacles and challenges we face.

The four-step routine that the improvement kata is based on, allows you build a scientific work habit into your daily practices and expand your knowledge threshold to new heights.

The Four-Step Process of Improvement Kata

The four-step process is broken into two phases. Steps one through three are whats called the planning phase. Step four is the executing phase.

  1. Understand the direction
  2. Grasp the current condition
  3. Establish the next target condition
  4. Iterate toward the target condition
Four-Steps to Improvement Kata
Four-Steps to Improvement Kata

Step One: Understanding the Direction

Step one is about understanding the challenges and objectives at the organization or value stream level. As each breakthrough challenge is set, new objectives and passageways open up, allowing for an individual to process improvement efforts.

A challenge is a non-negotiable stretch goal related to better serving the customer. A challenge is the context within which the rest of the improvement kata pattern gets applied.

An example of how a challenge sentence would start: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could…”

Step Two: Grasp the Current Condition

The goal of step two  is to analyze the initial current condition in order to obtain the facts and data you need to describe the next target condition. You’re essentially trying to find the current pattern of operation, so you can establish a desired pattern of operation or target condition.

It is impossible to know what you need to work on unless you have established a target condition.

The five steps of the improvement kata process analysis

  1. What is the task unit and how much time do we have to complete it?
  2. What are the typical patterns of work? How is the process currently operating?
  3. Do we have any machine constraints? What are they?
  4. How many people are necessary?
  5. How is the process performing over time?

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. -Michelangelo

Step Three: Establish the Next Target Condition

A target condition details your aspirations for a future state that lies beyond your current knowledge threshold — meaning you don’t already know how you will reach it. It consist of specific dates that you wish to achieve them by, usually between one week and three months out.

The handbook makes it clear that a target condition is a description of “where we’re going to be, not of how to get there.”

A good target condition requires experimentation and learning to reach it. If it is something you can quickly obtain that involves little trial and error, then you should reconsider your target condition.

Step Four: Iterate Toward the Target Condition

As you move forward you’re essentially looking for the most direct path through the field of obstacles in order to get to the next target condition. As you weave your way through new information and discoveries while working through your process, you will adjust your course based off the facts and data gained through experimenting.

Only obstacles that prevent the process from working in a way consistent with the next target condition need to be met. The information gained from experimentation will allow you to overcome the necessary obstacles and set your next steps accordingly.

Once completed, you now have a new threshold of knowledge and a new current condition. You are now more skillful and have successfully completed the improvement kata pattern.

The End Result:

  • New current state = improved performance
  • Closer to the breakthrough challenge
  • Expanded knowledge threshold
  • Increased skill with the improvement kata

Stay Tuned

The improvement kata is a means of developing solutions and meeting challenges along uncertain paths. It can be used in business, education, politics and daily life. The pattern of improvement kata can be taught to anyone, but to learn it you have to practice it.

Stay tuned for more on this ongoing series of the improvement kata and how it can help your lean team improve.

Additional Resources