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The KATA method: improvement & adaptation for better results

The KATA Method: Improvement & Adaptation For Better Results

If you are looking for continuous improvement in your organization, Lean Management has what you need. The KATA method will provide you with all the keys to obtain real progress within your organization through management. Indeed, management and collaboration are at the heart of the KATA approach, which is also a TPS tool developed by Toyota.

Origin and definition of the KATA method

The word “Kata” has its origins in Japanese martial arts: it corresponds to a set of coordinated and repeated movements so that they become completely natural to perform as a reflex.

The KATA method allows to progressively improve a process, an activity, so that it becomes optimal (reduction of time of realization, decrease of costs…) thanks to the principle of repetition.

The more we repeat the same movement, the more we become accustomed and we take this habit which is translated thereafter by savings of time, resources and considerable financial optimization.

These repetitive actions allow us to progress “slowly but surely”, with little effort, towards constantly improving processes, thus generating better productivity.

This method is known to be widely used at Toyota to improve production processes.

The KATA method is based on 4 key steps:

The start of an improvement Kata is based on 4 key steps. The 4th step is repeatable until the next target condition is reached. The Continuous Improvement Kata includes 3 roles: the learner; the coach; and the team

Step 1: Identify and understand the vision: a challenge

In this first step, you need to correctly identify the challenge you want to address in your organization for the coming years.

The idea is to identify the challenge that corresponds to the organizational vision, and then set a shorter-term goal.

This target condition is not a simple result to be achieved but describes a behavior or a mode of operation, declined in several characteristics, to be adopted in order to achieve a future result and not in reaction to an observed problem.

This challenge is generally aimed at improving the company’s productivity. It provides a guideline, through one or more objectives, to improve the processes and the company.

It is therefore a matter of setting objectives to be reached within a given time frame.

Step 2: Determine the current condition of the company

Once you have defined your vision, the challenge to be met, you must now determine precisely what the current condition of the company is. This phase requires an in-depth analysis of your processes, your internal organization… The objective is to identify the specificities of each process of the organization but especially to identify the possible areas of improvement. This phase should also allow to better understand the weaknesses as well as the assets of your current processes.

Thus, all this corresponds to the way you really work (this can be done by creating diagrams, tables, graphs allowing a better understanding of the organization of your activities). It is recommended to gather a maximum of information that can be measured.

Finally, it is essential to carry out this phase as seriously as possible because it will contribute to the definition of the next step and will guide the future actions of your organization.

The improvement kata allows for a progressive approach by resolving challenges one by one, thus limiting the triggering of waste in all directions. In other words, it is a focused improvement effort since the kata believes that eliminating waste is not an end in itself but rather the result of experiences leading to the target condition (or challenge).

Step 3: Establish your next target condition

Now that you have a clear vision of your challenge and your current situation, it is time to establish your next target condition, that is, to determine the next goal that will bring you closer to your goal. Simply put, where you would like to be. However, keep in mind that more than an outcome, it will be a process that will be implemented (and/or improved) in order to get you closer to your final vision.

  • This target condition must be ambitious: it must allow you to get out of the ordinary and propose areas of improvement that you had not thought of before.
  • It must be clear: this is essential to obtain efficient and relevant improvements of your current processes. It also avoids going in all directions and losing sight of your initial goal.
  • It must be realistic: keep in mind the resources at your disposal in order to evaluate whether they will allow you to achieve the improvement objectives you have set.

Step 4: Experiment with PDCA to move towards the target condition to overcome obstacles

In this last step, it’s all about improving through the principle of experimentation. Indeed, it is a question of choosing and setting up one or more experiments in order to reach the set objective(s).

This will allow you to identify the obstacles and difficulties you will face and to think about how to overcome them. You will then be able to deal more precisely with the obstacles preventing you from reaching your target condition.

The PDCA tool, complementary with the KATA method

In order to facilitate this step of the KATA method, Lean Management experts suggest to use the PDCA tool: “Plan, Do, Check, Act”. This is another very effective tool for continuous improvement.

The PDCA approach is based on a virtuous cycle, which must be repeated in order to remain in the continuous improvement process. This process makes it possible to improve the quality of the company’s products and services and can be applied to all of its functions. It will allow to solve the problems encountered thanks to 4 key steps.

Step 1: Plan 

This step consists of taking stock and analyzing the current situation. This includes identifying the problems encountered and defining the objectives to be achieved. The planning stage must include various key elements:

  • Identification of the problems to be solved as well as their cause and origin
  • Identify the consequences of the problems on the organization’s performance
  • Define the objectives to be achieved
  • Identify the external and internal actors involved in the project(s)
  • Identify the current work methods and the global work environment
  • Identify possible solutions to the problems
  • Identify the resources (human, material, technological) needed to solve the problems and achieve the objectives
  • Select and choose the most appropriate solution(s) to solve your problems, taking into account your constraints

Once these steps have been completed (in the order you deem most effective), you can move on to the next step in the process.

Step 2: Do or Deploy

It is now time to take action based on what has been identified and determined in step 1. It is time to put into practice the chosen method(s).

There are several steps to this phase:

  • Application of the selected methods
  • Readjustment of the methods if necessary
  • Identification of the most relevant methods

It is important to keep in mind that it is not a question of solving all the problems at once, but rather to favour small successive changes. The first step is to implement the plan on a small scale to ensure that it works.

In fact, this step should be seen as an “experiment” and should be done on a small scale. It would be inappropriate to strive for perfection during this phase, but rather it should be used to distinguish the methods that work best from those that work less well.

Step 3: Check

Once the action plan has been implemented, it is now time to measure the results obtained. This phase will allow you to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures put in place in step 2.

It will also allow you to understand any gaps between the objectives set and the results obtained. After studying the results, you will be able to determine whether or not the previous procedures should be generalized. If the results obtained are unsatisfactory, you will have to learn from them in order to readjust the action plan. This step is also the ideal moment to measure whether the overall efficiency of the project has been improved or not.

Thanks to the results obtained and your own analysis of them, all that remains to be done is to determine the final processes to be adopted.

Step 4: Act

This is the last phase of the PDCA method. It corresponds to the deployment phase of your action plan. It will now be necessary to extend and apply it to the entire defined perimeter:

  • Drafting of (new) processes
  • Organization of the (new) processes
  • Selection and implementation of the most relevant changes
  • Explain and assign tasks to the different actors to implement the planned changes
  • Set up a regular follow-up of the performance of the implemented processes

The objective of this step is also to ensure the effectiveness of the processes over the long term. If the action plan has not achieved the desired results, we can then restart a cycle of the PDCA method and adapt our processes according to the new improvement points.

Thus, thanks to its complementarity, the PDCA tool will allow you to strongly increase the chances of success of your KATA approach.

Advantages of the KATA method

The KATA method has many advantages for your organization:

  • Favors the implementation of positive habits
  • Reduces task execution time
  • Promotes “non-aggressive” change
  • Improves quality
  • Increase in productivity
  • Guaranteed continuous improvement

SNECI accompanies you in the implementation of the KATA methodology

The KATA method, based on Lean Management, will allow you to continuously improve your processes and your productivity. SNECI can assist you at every stage.

With 70 years of experience in improving industrial performance with strong roots in the automotive, defense, health, rail, luxury, energy, … and with more than 450 experts worldwide in more than 50 countries, SNECI supports manufacturers and suppliers in the implementation of various tools and methods in Lean Management to increase their productivity and profitability.

If you would like one of our industrial project managers to accompany you in improving your processes for greater profitability (saving time, money and efficiency), send an email to Laura who will reply within 24 hours to arrange a meeting at or contact us directly via the contact tab on our website.

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