Kata is a Japanese term meaning “form” and traditionally refers to a training method for learning fundamental movements in Japanese martial arts. In karate or other forms of martial arts, kata is defined as a system of training exercises in which the individual practices a specific choreographed pattern of movements in a repetitive manner. This systematic way of training is supposed to form habits and develop new skills.

The core philosophy of kata is to continuously improve, and its principles are often translated to be used in Lean organizations and manufacturing facilities. Kata’s aim is to introduce a scientific way of practicing continuous improvement and make this way of thinking a daily practice. When implemented in Lean management, kata can be broken down into two different behaviors:

Improvement kata: This is a four-step approach to continuously improving the organization when changing processes. The model of kata allows teams to adapt along the way and apply what they’ve learned. The four steps of improvement kata are:

  1. Vision: The direction or vision is established, and the team agrees on the challenge needing to be met.
  2. Current condition: Grasping the situation at hand is important. Why is the current process not meeting the vision? What are the obstacles that need to be worked on?
  3. Target condition: The next step is to establish the next target condition. The team defines what patterns or steps can be taken to improve the current process.
  4. PDCA: Finally, the team implements changes to the process utilizing the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. The planning has been done in the previous three steps, and the team can move through the PDCA cycle quickly to identify obstacles. When obstacles are uncovered, the steps of kata are repeated beginning on the second step.

Coaching kata: This is a practice routine used by the leaders in the organization. When kata is implemented in the facility, it is typically carried out by managers in the workplace and coaching kata is aimed to teach the improvement kata process to everyone in the workplace. It shares the first three steps of improvement kata, but instead of the PDCA cycle as the fourth step, it is replaced with coaching cycles.

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