Continuous Improvement can happen in many ways. Some organizations view improvement efforts as‘projects’ that are completed over time, by support personnel with modest involvement of front line associates. Many organizations have learned that highly focused rapid improvement or kaizen events of a specified duration is an effective way to engage employees, generate excitement and demonstrate that change does not have to drag out.
But what happens after the ‘projects’ and ‘events’ are presumably finished? Often this is when the really difficult work occurs to get affected supervisors, managers, and team members truly bought in to the changes and sustain them over time (until a better idea arises, of course). Too often black belts, kaizen facilitators, or whatever you call your Continuous Improvement (CI) professionals move onto other areas before the requisite understanding and buy-in occurs. The changes erode over time at the disappointment of all parties. Further, participation in a few kaizen events or on several project teams really is insufficient practice to make change a habit in most people. Only through numerous repetitions will process improvement and problem solving become engrained in all managers, supervisors, and associates.
Creating a mindset of CI in all associates is the real objective of Lean, and its greatest challenge. There seems to be something missing from the approach that most organizations take to CI. There needs to be a way to make CI a daily practice so that it becomes a true habit. Further there are just not enough events and projects in the traditional sense, or a sufficient number of CI professionals in an organization to effectively accomplish this. There is really no other way but to equip managers and supervisors with a methodology and the skills to engage their team members in daily improvement. That is where Toyota Kata comes in.
Mike Rother in his book ‘Toyota Kata’ operationalizes daily improvement in a simple, easy to follow methodology that any leader can put into practice with their immediate team members. Kata means ‘routine’. The book defines two distinct but interrelated routines. First is the Improvement Kata (IK) that defines a step-by-step approach to practice Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA). The second is the Coaching Kata (CK) that defines a series of questions that any leader can use to guide team members through the Improvement Kata. While seemingly simple it takes time and practice so that both kata become second nature. Both routines are founded on the principle of ‘target condition’ thinking that is critical to effective improvement.
This post was first seen in the Association for Manufacturing Excellence December Newsletter. To learn more about Toyota Kata, please see the book discussed above by Mike Rother or contact the LEAN Accountants of McKonly and Asbury, LLP.