The Improvement Kata: Part 3

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

The Improvement Kata and Lean

With the current evolution of business it is more important than ever to embrace and implement a lean ideology into your organization’s culture. The first two entries of the The Improvement Kata series focused on defining and the overall process. This post will continue down that road, but also look at why it is important to apply the improvement kata to your lean methods.

Lean tools and practices are designed to give your business the ways and means for continual improvement. A true lean transformation though, takes a culture of individuals with a common mindset and agendas that are driven into their nature. The problem with many lean efforts however, is they tend to remain a task-force activity rather than how an organization runs itself day-to-day.

Unfortunately, this is an extremely difficult way to build a culture.

Building a culture requires daily routines and practices throughout your team. Random implementations are not reinforcing and quickly become lost in the train of thought for most people. However, the improvement kata offers a solution to this culture barrier.

Mike Rother, author of Toyota Kata,  stresses the importance of applying your lean concepts and methods into the context of the improvement kata in order to have long-term success.

The lean tools are still valid, and indeed necessary. But using the Kata approach in how these tools are applied develops the the context for systematic problem solving and sustainable innovation by all associates.

Change of Thought

To entangle your lean methods into the context of the improvement kata, Rother offers up several suggestions. He begins by looking at the process as a whole and how lean is typically implemented into an organization.

Typically, lean is implemented from a top-down approach. Meaning you have senior managers leading the charge and providing the direction for others to model. However, Rother points out that this can sometimes be seen by middle management as simply another side activity that isn’t apart of their job requirement. Or more importantly, they fail to see how lean is something that can help them reach their goals.

Instead, your lean team should be seen as a service and support function to middle managers. If they see lean as a method of meeting their goals and overall success, then they are more likely to adopt such culture. Your lean culture is dependent upon middle management buying into it. They are the ones on the ground and top levels. Their influence on an organization’s capabilities is stronger than any other group.

Today’s more complex and dynamic environment means managers have to work with their people not just to maximize task efficiency, but to develop and apply skills for achieving new goals and meeting challenges along unpredictable paths.

Shift In Focus

Managers Make Lean Happen or Not
Managers Make Lean Happen or Not

The role of a lean staff is not necessarily to do lean, but to support the manager in doing lean in order to achieve the overall goals of the organization.

Picture the lean staff as a tool for guiding and coaching managers. This added value is what sets lean organizations apart. It allows managers to achieve the necessary performance in their teams and boosts their ability to manage.

To achieve this added value your lean teams not only need to become lean experts, but also acquire coaching-level proficiency in an improvement kata.

In Rother’s slide on “The Lean Army,” he mentions the need for the “lean army” to not just become more technical lean experts, but also know how to effectively coach managers on how to guide their teams through a systematic, scientific process for achieving challenging goals.

With the right tools, managers can help coach their team practice an improvement kata as well as lean techniques daily. In the end the team will be better prepared to take on difficult challenges as they arise, with more confidence and practiced techniques to overcome any obstacles in the way of their goals.

Below is the complete Slideshare by Mike Rother, “The Lean Army.”

Additional Resources