Toyota Kata – The Missing Link in Your Lean Journey

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All companies must implement lean tools and techniques through the human mechanics of operating in an environment where culture and habits have been established.

Ever since Toyota Motors revealed its world-class manufacturing system, American businesses have been chasing the Lean movement in an ever-increasing need to drive out cost and improve efficiency. As Toyota methodologies have found success time and again, leading companies well beyond those of just the Fortune 500 now seek the Toyota panacea of cost control and containment in their manufacturing systems. They have spent millions in training costs and the employ of consultants to show them the “Toyota Way” to a perfect manufacturing.

For too many companies, however, the great cure-all was never realized. In almost all of these cases, the “lean journey” ended in a state of frustration and continual false starts. There was something missing, but what?

While the topics of lean, muda (waste), and the seven basic tools of lean are a good start for understanding of the techniques needed to achieve a more optimum operating system, all the assessment and measurement tools in the world won’t solve the most troublesome problem of all: the human element. All companies must implement lean tools and techniques through the human mechanics of operating in an environment where culture and habits have been established – in some cases, for decades. Change is often antithetical to long-established work processes and procedures, and culture is often the likely culprit when the lean journey becomes a path to disaster.

A more modern analysis has shown that the focus on this human element is the missing link to a successful implementation of the lean sciences. The Toyota kata methodology was formed from the trials and errors Toyota themselves experienced in their own lean journey, which continues even today. Kata is the process of making change stick. Many executives fail to realize the necessity of changing the basic human culture within the operating environment as lean is implemented. This is where kata methods come into play.

Within the kata methodology are the coaching kata and the learning kata, which form deliberate practice routines that drive change and make it stick within the corporate culture. Only when we focus on driving these cycles of improvement within the workforce will the lean journey succeed and become the new operating culture for an ever-increasing optimal operating environment built upon driving out cost and meeting today’s global challenges from a global market. Driving this practice is simple, but never easy. Changing habits and a culture instilled in many organizations takes perseverance, tenacity, and a willingness to drill these methods time and again into the new culture. However, for those companies willing to have the fortitude to try these methods, success in their lean journey is sure to follow.


Additional Reading
Smart Operations: The Perfect Partner for Lean & lean Six Sigma
High Performing Teams = Driving Success in Lean


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