Lean’s Missing Link: Toyota KATA

By on June 4, 2014
Lean’s Missing Link: Toyota KATA

Comments from the front line of manufacturing…

“Six years ago we spent a lot of time, effort, and money on the 5S system. Our work spaces became very lean, orderly, and clean. Now it’s almost all gone away. You can’t even tell we ever did 5S.”

“Three years ago we used Value Stream Mapping to improve work flow and eliminate WIP on this line. The gains we made have all gone away. Work flow is back to pre-VSM levels and WIP is once again piling up on the line.”

A Solution: Toyota KATA

Toyota KATA by Mike RotherIn response to these types of challenges, the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College has recently developed a five session seminar series of two-hour discussions centered on a best seller written by Mike Rother, a faculty member at the University of Michigan and the Technical University in Dortmund, Germany, entitled “Toyota KATA.” Many leading experts on Lean manufacturing have said that the KATA process, which Rother carefully documents in this book, is the “missing link” when it comes to the successful implementation of Lean work processes. It helps transform work environments in which work process improvements are episodic into work environments in which work process improvements are continuous and sustainable.

How does the Toyota KATA process produce these results?

Coaching KATA: The Five Questions

CC BY NC Mike Rother from the Improvement Kata Handbook, http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mrother/Materials_to_Download.html, Copyright 2014 by Mike Rother, all rights reserved.

KATA does this by making employees think like scientists and use the scientific method to approach problem-solving with guidance from the five KATA questions. These questions become the standard work process that all employees use in driving continuous improvements. Combined with a “KATA Storyboard,” positioned where the work happens, and a continuing set of interactions with a KATA coach, this process adds a vital ingredient missing in many Lean implementation initiatives. It provides a laser-sharp focus on target conditions that need to be improved, with the brain power of the organization fully engaged in the process. As this happens, employees become aware, in new and surprising ways, of their ability to achieve gains in productivity that prior to KATA they would not have thought possible.

How can we help your company take advantage of the power of KATA?

Our five-session Toyota KATA seminar series will provide invaluable support for your use of KATA. We just completed the inaugural launch of this series at Nova Marketing. Here’s a comment from Nova’s president on the impact of this program:

I highly recommend Toyota KATA training to any organization with a desire to create a culture of continuous improvement and innovation through employee engagement. The Toyota KATA training program has provided our management team with the knowledge and tools to successfully engage our employees in helping us continually evaluate and improve our processes so we can provide best in class service to our customers. These training classes are a great way to create teamwork and energize a group of individuals toward a common goal. Our trainer was extremely knowledgeable and encouraged interaction and participation throughout the program. Kudos to St. Louis Community College for sharing Toyota KATA in such an interesting and creative way.
Kathy Abbet
President, NOVA Marketing Services

I’d like to meet with you to discuss the ways in which our Toyota KATA series could be put to work for your company. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612. Let’s talk.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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