Thinking about thinking and how to get better at it – Kata Curiosity

Engineer Working With Apprentices On Factory Floor

[fruitful_dbox] Kata Curious?
Thinking about thinking at KATACON [/fruitful_dbox]

In his book Toyota Kata, Mike Rother sets out how to manage people for improvement. He asserts that learning and practicing a scientific mindset in the structure of a routine or ‘kata’ will change your view of management, teamwork, coaching, education and what it takes to fuel a culture of improvement. For the link to Mike Rother’s homepage for up to date Kata information and resources, click on the book icon.


People around the world who are implementing and practicing the two kata routines Rother describes as the Improvement Kata (IK) and the Coaching Kata (CK) call themselves “Kata Geeks.” In February 223 people, kata curious and Kata Geeks, gathered in Fort Lauderdale Florida for the first ever Kata Summit conference, also known as KataCon.  I went out of more than Kata Curiousity. I went to get connected with this generous community who are rallying around the call that we should encourage, and coach curiousity and scientific thinking at work.  More than that, we should practice controlled experiments, every day. And that the way to do that is to thorough kata routines that make the coaching conversaton a predictable, positive and focussed daily part of work.  The KataCon resources, including presentations and audio recordings are available to everyone.  Generous Kata Geeks want to share. Click the Kata for Good photo to visit the KataCon resource home page.


[fruitful_dbox] Kata is a routine you practice  [/fruitful_dbox]

I have been learning about Kata but I hadn’t tried it before KataCon. I have visited companies doing the IK and CK, complementing and strengthening their lean improvements by developing people through the structure of daily routine coaching in scientific experimentation. For me, when people want to demonstrate that good managers are teachers who use questions to teach people how to think about and tackle problems, I am there.

And at it’s simplest, that is the Coaching Kata. CK is a routine to ask a series of standard questions to set the learner / worker up to learn about a work process that is important to his work, to the manager and to the organization.  I love that about workplace learning: it’s real, it’s important and engaging.  As the learner / worker goes through an improvement inquiry cycle of planning and experiementing, analyzing and reconsidering a work process, the parallel supporting Coaching Kata cycle is a question and answer process whereby the Coach listens and observes to understand the Learner’s thinking – and nudge the learner along what Rother calls “the learning corridor.” This routine interaction isn’t about solving the problem. It’s about focussing the coach on listening and observing while developing the inquiry skills of the learner / worker.  The CK also controls the coach. No side comments, no opinions, no advice.  Just ask, clarify and follow up with questions to get the learner in the inquiry zone.  One of my early teaching mantras was “Set up and get out of the way.”  The CK makes a manager set up the front line supervisor to try out a small change, get fresh data and reconsider accordingly.  The IK is PDCA or Plan Do Check Adjust.  That is plan your experiment, do it. Then check results against your expectations and adjust your process and plan again.


[fruitful_dbox] The Coaching Kata Questions [/fruitful_dbox]

From Mike Rother, Toyota Kata

The Five Coaching Kata Questions

  1. What is the Target Condition?
  2. What is the Actual Condition now?
    About the actual  condition now – What did you plan as your last step? What did you expect? What actually happened?  What did you learn?
  3. What obstacles do you think are preventing you from reaching the target condition?  Which one are you adressing now?
  4. What is your next step? What do you expect from your next step?
  5. How quickly can we go and see what we have learned from taking that step?

Some people add a ‘Questions Zero’ and ask, What is our Challenge? A challenge is a bigger goal, something the organization is striving for that this kata is serving at the greater level for the organization.

Many people add a Questions 6 – How can I help you?  or What can I do to help, what help do you need from me?  Remember the learner reports to the coach. They interact all the time outside the kata and for many managers, asking what support people need is already their routine.


Five Coaching Questions for planning and for less technically-minded scenarios

If you aren’t immersed in the Lean movement for Continuous Improvement, this IK CK can seem really out of your orbit.

From what I understand, Bill Constantino and his colleagues at W3 Group worked out the CK wording below for those situations.

These questions are used when

  • developing a challenge
  • the Target Condition is not set
  • the learner is studying the Current State.

The wording of these  questions is often friendlier service or office work.

  1. What are you trying to acheive?
  2. Where are you now?
  3. What’s currently in your way?
  4. What’s your next step and what do you expect from that step?
  5. When can we see together what you’ve learned from taking that step?

These are good questions for a leader to ask!

Ask open-ended questions and the responses will show the edges of what people know and which ideas go together in their minds.

With that information, and a clear direction of objectives, you can teach. The Coaching Kata is good teaching practice.


I’ll be blogging more about Kata as I prepare to introduce it to lean practictioners and my clients.

For now, I can say that it is exciting to be a learner!  I wake up raring to go and try a new experiment every day!

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