In Toyota Kata Mike Rother shares knowledge and insight gained while working at Toyota and learning the Toyota approach to management. In this book ‘kata’ refers to the organisational routines that in Toyota allows for continuous improvement, adaption and employee empowerment.  Rother is able to demonstrate and support how these routines are sustained at Toyota.Cover_Toyota_Kata

The word kata refers to a pattern of practice that is repeated until it has become a habit.  Psychology supports the kata approach that we learn automatic reactions by repeating and practicing behaviours.  To build new habits we must consistently repeat the desired behaviour pattern until it’s a routine or habit.  Rother explains that Toyota mainly applies two katas to ensure consistent continual improvement, namely:

Improvement Kata: a habit of continuous cycles to establish target conditions, working step-by-step through obstacles and learning from the problems encountered.
Coaching Kata: a habit of coaching employees at every level to think and act in the Toyota way.

The so-called ‘five questions’ are the foundation of the kata.  The five questions build upon one another and the better defined the answer to question one is, the better the ability to respond to question two etc.  It’s important to take one step at a time with the emphasis on working towards the next step.  Again, by practising the questions in a sequential way, it becomes a routine to learn improvement.

The five questions are

  1. What is the target condition (the challenge)?
  2. What is the actual condition now?
  3. What obstacles are now preventing you from reaching the target condition? And which one are you addressing now?
  4. What is your next step? PDCA cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act)
  5. When can we go and see what we have learned from taking that step?

The coaching kata allows for the improvement kata to be disseminated to all employees.  The coaching kata is a key element to sustaining improvement.  In the coaching kata people are taught that learning is part of everyday work.  Everyone at Toyota is appointed a mentor and these mentor-mentee relationships are not linked to the organisational hierarchy.  By enabling continuous learning as a routine, Toyota is able to sustain improvement processes in every process, at every organisational level, every day.

Another kata foundation is the definition and role of management at Toyota.  Rother defines management as the systematic pursuit of desired conditions by utilising human capabilities in a concerted way.  The book builds on this definition by providing practical guidance for leading and developing people. The primary task of Toyota managers does not revolve around improvement as such; rather the primary task is about building the improvement capability of people. In other words it is not management’s role to offer solutions to situations, rather it is their role to support and teach the kata to improve situations.

The book offers numerous practical examples and in-depth explanations.  An entire section of the book is dedicated to how Toyota kata can be adapted to other organisations.

An additional bonus is that the five questions and other supporting materials can be downloaded from the following link:

Who should read Toyota Kata? Executives and managers who are interested in sustaining change within their organisation.  And, anybody interested in continuous improvement, coaching, and sustainability of lean.

Title: Toyota Kata
Mike Rother
ISBN-13: 978-0-07-163523-3
Sku: 5233
Publication Date: August 4 2009
Number of pages: 309

Review written by Charmaine Cunningham

Toyota Kata workshop

Toyota Kata, the book by Mike Rother published in 2010, has had a great impact on lean practitioners and the way they work. This is definitely also true of us at the Lean Institute Africa. In 2015 we introduce a one-day course to share insights that challenge practice of the two katas: problem solving and coaching. It is aimed at deepening thoughtful daily practice in those already entrenched in the lean way. For more information please click here. Our news feature ‘Toyota Kata – the key to sustained improvement’ further explains the reason for our providing this workshop. Toyota Kata is about sustaining improvement within your organisation. You may REGISTER for the workshop online now.