By Sarah Burlingame
Reposted with permission from nist.gov
There is more to lean manufacturing than improving a few processes. Sustainable lean success requires a companywide culture of continuous daily improvement. Companies that develop their people to think scientifically, using facts and data to drive their decisions, are often the ones that most successfully achieve their goals. Practicing Toyota Kata, or kata, promotes this way of thinking, which can help companies become nimbler and more competitive so that they are able to not just survive but thrive during an adverse event such as a pandemic.
What is kata? What are the benefits of kata to manufacturers in crisis?
Kata is a Japanese word that refers to a structured way of doing things or pattern of behavior. As Senior Project Manager for TDO (Train Develop Optimize), part of the New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the MEP National NetworkTM, I work with small and medium-sized manufacturers to practice kata, or behaviors, and apply additional lean manufacturing tools and techniques to solve business challenges. This gives them a competitive advantage.
During stressful situations such as a pandemic, it is human nature to become overwhelmed and lose focus. But kata coaching can keep management and employees on track. The Toyota Kata framework can be a stabilizing force to guide manufacturers through rough terrain and uncertainty while helping them become agile enough to respond to changes in their environment.
The improvement kata model guides manufacturers during their continuous improvement journey
The improvement kata model, based on Mike Rother’s book, Toyota Kata, helps manufacturers develop essential scientific-thinking skills in their people. The model is based on four steps that are driven by coaching questions to guide management and employees during their continuous improvement journey.
The improvement kata serves as a foundation for manufacturers that are navigating a crisis. Building this foundation begins with focusing relentlessly on direction. Use the model questions below to assess your progress at every step.
1. Set the challenge
Through practicing kata and applying scientific thinking, companies can think about their challenge not only through quantitative metrics such as numbers and routine ways of operating, but also in terms of where they need to be as a company.
Ask yourself: Where does your manufacturing company or business need to be in the next 12 to 18 months? Establish a clear goal, which may include desired performance metrics, specific operating patterns, or other business-related outcomes that need to be achieved.
2. Grasp the current condition
Once a challenge has been identified, the next step is to get clarity on where you are now, where you need to be, and what obstacles are in your way.
This can be accomplished through various approaches. A detailed process map is a tool sometimes used to collect and visualize data and observed operating patterns. Physically going to the gemba — the place where the action happens like the shop floor — will ensure that the most current and accurate information is collected.
To get to your current condition, describe the way your business is operating today. How are you performing? What do your processes and work environment look like? How are you using resources?
A thorough understanding of the current condition will be helpful in setting the first target condition. Think of the target condition as what needs to happen in the future that is not happening now, or conversely, what should not be happening in the future that is happening now. When determining a relevant target condition, it is important to consider a goal that would likely need to be achieved to get you closer to meeting the overall challenge.
Once a target condition is established and you have a clear destination, the fun part begins. Figuring out how to get to a destination can be riddled with unknowns, and that is okay. If everything was already known, then you would be there already.
3. Set the next target condition
Set a goal for yourself that is one to two weeks out. The goal (target condition) should be something that, if achieved, will help you get closer to reaching your ultimate goal.
When setting your next target condition, consider things that are happening today that cannot be happening in the future, or things that aren’t happening today that need to be happening in the future.
Ask yourself: Why am I not at my goal yet? The answers to this question will uncover obstacles that are preventing you from already being at your desired target condition.
4. Experiment toward the target condition
Pick one of the obstacles that is preventing you from already being at your target condition. Determine an action to try that will allow you to learn something new about the obstacle you have chosen — and give it a go!
Once you have completed an experiment, you will have either learned something new to help you remove the obstacle, or you will have uncovered additional obstacles that may need to be addressed. Either way, you will be moving closer to achieving your target condition.
Continue to repeat this cycle until you have removed all the obstacles that were previously in your way. Be sure to reflect on your target condition and assess your current condition in between experiments to help keep you focused on the right obstacles at the right time.