Kata: A Frontline Leader Development Process

The approach Toyota uses to “build people before they build cars.”


What is kata?

Kata simply means ‘routine’ or ‘way’. In the context of lean, it means new leadership routines that help value adders improve every day outside of kaizen events … and that help leaders teach during gemba walks and be the bridge between kaizen event team members and others who need to unlearn the old way and learn the new (download Improvement and Coaching Kata FAQ).

Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata are leadership skills development and deployment best practices that enable Toyota’s culture of daily continuous improvement. Kata is structured as a series of onsite leadership coaching sessions which employ a “go to Gemba” approach to teaching.

In an environment where these “kata” have been instilled...

  • There is a strong partnership between frontline leaders and operators. The leader’s main responsibility is to serve the needs of the operators and enhance their ability to add value to the organization.
  • The frontline leadership team has the skills to teach operators about lean…not in a classroom setting but in the workplace.
  • You never have to worry that kaizen improvements won’t be meaningfully implemented.
  • Once a better way to work is discovered in one area it is quickly pulled into other areas that can benefit from the improvement.
  • The line between how value-adders do their work and how improvement happens is blurred; continuous improvement really is continuous.
  • Improvement isn’t held hostage waiting until the next ‘event’.

These coaching sessions focus on four essential leadership routines necessary to develop an organic improvement environment, one in which improvement happens outside of events, as part of daily work. Participants will learn the four routines necessary to think and act like Toyota frontline leaders, every minute of every day.


The Four Routines:

Routine 1 – The Gemba Walk
The Gemba walk provides a simple, reliable way for managers, supervisors, and facility leaders to teach and reinforce the lean way and build a culture of continuous improvement. Master the “who, what, where, when, and why” of this important lean technique.

Routine 2 – Improvement Sustainment
If most improvement happens as a result of a kaizen-style event, and if most kaizen events are successful, why aren’t we reaching our goals? When kaizen team members return to their day-to-day responsibilities, often no one is formally charged with the job of shepherding the improvement to maturity. Learn the leadership techniques that will make unsustained improvements a problem of the past.

Routine 3 – Replicating Improvements
Once strong sustaining skills are in place, the next challenge is to swiftly replicate improvements on other shifts and lines as well as in other facilities with similar processes. Learn how to multiply the value derived from your kaizen event investment by implementing new standards beyond the initial area.

Routine 4 – Bottom-up Improvement*
*improvement that happens outside of a kaizen event
Which would you rather have… one resource-intensive improvement event every month or hundreds of low cost improvements each week? Slow and steady always wins the race. Learn the leadership skills that will blur the lines between improvement activities and daily work.

Workshop Outcomes:

  • Reestablish the working relationship between frontline leaders and value adders as one of collaborating partners.
  • Redefine the role of the manager as coach, mentor, teacher.
  • Develop a strong, enterprise-wide capability for executing and sustaining improvement.
  • Create an organization-wide ability to improve continuously, outside of a kaizen event setting.
  • Build a world-class ability to work in cross-ranking and cross-functional teams.
  • Apply a scientific approach (Plan-Do-Check-Act) to improving and to building leadership skills and capabilities.
  • Initiate the process of embedding a true culture of continuous improvement via:
    • Learning the 4 key routines that make an organization lean
    • Mastering the 10-step process for “teaching” these principles organization-wide as a part of daily work

How this rolls out:
Productivity can tailor the rollout process – the frequency of engagements and the size of the teams -- to fit your environment and timeframe for improvement. Here are two generic options for consideration:

Option “A”- Supervisors are divided into teams, with onsite coaching visits scheduled one week per month for an agreed-upon timeframe. Each supervisor team receives two half-day coaching sessions in each scheduled coaching week. The first half-day session will guide them through steps 1 – 5 for that month’s principle, and the second half-day session through steps 6 – 10.

Option “B”- Supervisors are divided into smaller teams, with onsite coaching visits scheduled two weeks per month. This approach offers the benefit of a smaller team and therefore more interactive learning experience.

Contact Productivity