The Role of Kata in Business Recovery

Kata is a Japanese word used in martial arts and it describes a series or precise choreographed movements that are practiced alone or in groups during training. Recovering from a business set-back is a key strength in organisations who practice business kata.

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Business kata (sometimes referred to as Toyota kata) involves introducing repeating patterns of behaviour and practices, that follow a specific prescribed pattern, and that enable the team to function at a high level. There are many examples of kata practices in lean organisations. These include daily tiered meetings, standard work, and 8 step problem solving. Each of these three examples involves a team of people participating in a prescribed routine that enables the individual, the team and the business to function at a high level. The practices also enable the continuous improvement of processes and development of people. Organisations practicing this type of business kata will have a much higher chance of rapid recovery after the COVID-19 containment phase than others. Let’s take a look at the daily tiered meeting as an example. 

The tiered meetings take place daily, every workday, at a fixed time and follow a fixed routine. There is a top-down cascade of the strategic and operational direction set by senior management, reflected in the design and content of the visual boards used in the daily tiered meetings. The performance against these objectives is discussed at the daily tiered meetings. In large organisations there may be three or four tiers. Tier one is very much operationally focused and involves entry level employees and production workers. Tier one meetings are typically facilitated by a supervisor or team lead and involve operator participation. Tier two meetings have both an operational focus and a problem solving focus. Tier two meetings are typically facilitated by a manager and involve supervisor participation. Tier three meetings have a strategic, operational and a problem solving focus. Tier three meetings are typically facilitated by a director or value stream manager and involve manager participation.  Tier four meetings have a strategic, operational focus and a problem solving focus. They are typically facilitated by the site lead and involve director and or value stream manager participation. The above are guidelines and the number, timing and participants in daily tiered meetings is adjusted to accommodate the organisation size and structure. 

Some key features of all daily tiered meetings include:

  • Each meeting takes 10 to 15 minutes in length
  • It is held at a visual review board
  • The board is located on a wall or stand in the workplace
  • Participants typically stand during the meeting
  • The visual content includes safety metrics, performance against department key performance indicators (KPIs), and progress against projects and issues
  • For each tier, the layout of the visual boards is standard across all departments. The content is varied to accommodate department KPIs, projects and issues.
  • Safety is always the first topic on the agenda at every daily meeting
  • Questions and contributions are encouraged
  • Responsibility for managing and updating the visual board is clear. A review of the suitability of board content, and the management of the board, is held weekly.

There is an overlap of personnel between meetings. For example, a supervisor may facilitate a tier 1 meeting at 8am, and participate in a tier 2 meeting at 8:20am. In this way, the continuity and cohesiveness of performance against organisation objectives is maintained.

If your organisation is already running tiered meetings, then you have an advantage when managing business recovery after the COVID-19 shut down. These advantages include:

  • Rapid re-establishment of professional relationships
  • Those who need to know what’s going on in the department are present and informed
  • Communication is enhanced by the use of clear visual data
  • Each participant is reminded of, and reassured of, his or her contribution to department and organisation success, and
  • Engagement and involvement is re-established rapidly, from meeting 1 on day 1.  

Human beings are creatures of habit and we function best when we have a routine to follow. Witness all of us who are confined to working from home. There is a tendency to stay up too late, binge watch on our favourite streaming series, and use the 2Km containment rule to skip exercising. A bit of formally stated and visual kata discipline will quickly return us to a regular high-functioning routine.

Don’t worry if the term kata is new to you. In fact, a search of many of the well-established books on lean, yields zero result for the term ‘kata’. The term has been popularised in lean circles in recent years by Mike Rother, in his book Toyota Kata, which was published in 2010. Other books worth reading on establishing kata routine at work (although they don’t use the term kata) are Creating a Lean Culture by David Mann, and Kaizen 2: Harnessing Leadership, Organizations, People, and Tools for Office Excellence, by William Lareau. The last book provides some interesting insights into human behaviour and how to secure engagement. Many books on the topic are also available in audio format if that’s your preference.

Wishing you and your families and colleagues a safe passage through the COVID-19 containment phase and a speedy and secure recovery to a fully functioning business when we earn our freedom of movement. 

© Bernie Rushe, BSc, CPIM, Dip SA, MSc, Black Belt
Bernie@LeanIreland.ie, +353-87-2837810