I was lucky enough to be invited by Mike Rother, author of the fantastic Toyota Kata, to ‘KataCon’ – the first ever Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata summit in Fort Lauderdale, U.S. The goal of the event was to bring together the rapidly growing world of Kata users that are integrating practices of the IK/CK routines into their teams and organizations.

Improvement Kata

The opening keynote was from Jeff Liker, author of The Toyota Way. He shared his inspirations for writing The Toyota Way and discussed how Toyota Kata has built upon the same principles of continuous improvement driven by people-led innovation. He shared his 5 reasons for writing the book;

  1. A personal resonance with Toyota’s message of learning about uncertainty by doing
  2. An observation that people with a lot of accumulated knowledge don’t like experimentation or learning new ways of working outside their comfort zone
  3. Frustration with people jumping to solutions without adequately understanding the problems or outcomes they really want to achieve
  4. The fit of the leadership model for Toyota Kata with The Toyota Way, especially the commitment to self development that is inherent in both
  5. A desire for people to experience what learning really felt like – simply knowing what you should do isn’t enough

It was interesting to learn that both Jeff and Mike, who had been academic colleagues, had written two of the most impactful books in this space without much collaboration.

Next was Brad Frank, President of Tulsa Tube Bending. Brad shared his lessons learnt from deploying Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata in his organization. He noted that as a leader, a lot of his coaching cycles are triggered by questions from visitors to the facility. This has helped him to consider the why of what Tulsa are doing, and has provided new ideas to further improve their work. His top 4 lessons learnt were;

  1. You must be the change you want to see. Tulsa had suffered from the classic problem of believing that others needed to change, not the organization itself.
  2. Understand where you are spending your time, and if it aligns to where you should be spending your time. Manage urgent vs. important.
  3. Company culture is always worse that management expects. “The culture in my office was great”, he said jokingly as the CEO. That doesn’t mean it is the same everywhere in the organization!
  4. Skills development and improving people is the real job, not managing profits. Like Toyota, he needed to build great people, who then build great cars.

These sessions were followed by other great examples from Cornerstone Healthcare Group, Zulily and GKN Sinter, each sharing different journeys in Healthcare and Manufacturing.

KataAfter the morning presentations W3Group created an Improvement Kata experience of ‘learning by doing’ with a domino game. The goal of the game was to build a structure with 200 dominos using Kata principles and practice routines: setting a vision, understanding and defining the current condition, and setting target conditions to work towards.

As a team we defined a hypothesis to achieve the target condition, then ran an experiment to test our hypothesis. We then ran a coaching cycle to reflect on the outcomes and developed new current and target conditions based on our learning. During the exercise we all got to experience the roles of the learner, coach and worker. The principle of ‘learning by doing’ really came into effect first hand!

Improvement Kata

The second day was broken into two practical components; workshops for attendees to discuss how to deploy Improvement Kata in their organization, and panel discussions (where I presented) from people working in manufacturing, healthcare, administration and software development that had deployed IK/CK.

My presentation showcased ‘Hypothesis-Driven Development’, including how we evolved our product development processes and expressions of work as hypotheses to be tested. For the majority of the audience this was their first experience of how this scientific approach can be applied beyond manufacturing and healthcare to a broad variety of domains, including software.

The software panel was hosted by Håkan Forss & Gary Perkerwicz. Mike Varecka from Obitial ATK, kicked it off by sharing his experience of trying to deploy IK/CK within his organization. Mike works on economic modelling for an aerospace organization, so finding ways to improve the efficiency of their supply chain is critical. He focused on the power of understanding the relationship between learner, coach and second coach as they support one another on the journey. Håkan shared the impact (through amazing Lego scenes) of shortening the learning cycle timeframe when trying to overcome persistent obstacles faced by teams.

The highlight of the conference was an opportunity to visit a B/E Aerospace facility in Miami and meet a team that had embraced Improvement Kata to achieve amazing results both in terms of business outcomes and people engagement.

The facility is responsible for building luxury airline seats (which can cost over $140,000 each) for private jets and Super First Class commercial airliners. We took a gemba walk to the shop floor and met staff as they went through their learning cycles and experiments.

Coming from a software background, I was interested to observe how the environment and its design was such a key consideration for the teams. Visual communication and the physical layout of people, card walls, information radiators and equipment are at the core of high performing Lean-Agile software development teams, as they build shared understanding, raise visibility and improve collaboration with internal and external stakeholders at speed. These principles were at play at B/E Aerospace too.

After the walk we had an open Q&A session with the business leadership and Kata coaches. There was plenty of great dialogue between attendees and employees during the session, and a B/E Aerospace employee raised a point that really captured the essence of the conference experience as a whole. When asked what has been the most transformational outcome of deploying Improvement Kata at B/E Aerospace, their answer was simple; “I feel I no longer need permission to experiment”.


Toyota Kata Website

LinkedIn Group

KataCon YouTube Channel