Kata Continuous Improvement-Policy Propagation-Realization

Mike Rother and Gerd Aulinger discovered Kata’s Continuous Improvement, Policy Propagation, and Realization. They documented it in their wonderful book Toyota Kata Culture. This was a strategic secret of Toyota’s before they discovered it. Toyota was able to keep this a secret for many years but one of the byproducts of being one of the most studied companies in the world is that secrets are never forever.

Kata is so important to Toyota that they will not start a new plant in less they can get this going right off the bat. This is why companies that read the book The Machine that Changed the World could never keep up with Toyota. This is the reason many businesses today cannot keep up with Toyota.

Two reasons this Continuous Improvement program is so powerful:

  1. Improvement Velocity. The velocity of improvement is 11 ideas per person, per year, and
  2. Improvement Direction. Not only is the velocity improvement so high but every one of those ideas is in the direction of business improvement as defined by management.

There is structure to this Kata Continuous Improvement program but very little of it is overhead. You don’t need to hire a bunch of extra people to execute this.

Get an in-depth feel for what’s involved by reviewing the presentation:

The Leading Kata Continuous Improvement Methodology Seeks Perfection at 11 Continuous Improvement Ideas/person/year Directed Towards System Defined Goals

  • 500 Employees –> 5,500 Improvement Ideas per Year
  • 10,000 Employees –> 110,000 Improvement Ideas per Year
  • 100,000 Employees –> 1,100,000 Improvement Ideas per Year, and
  • All those ideas are in a business-defined direction
  • A requirement is that you have mapped Value Streams

An Overview of The Very Best Kata Continuous Improvement Program

Read the characteristics of the leading Kata Continuous Improvement Program followed by a detailed introduction to the program or you can review the video. Kata Continuous Improvement Program Improves:

  1. Above all, Velocity: 11 ideas per person per year,
  2. Certainly a Direction: Towards a business benefiting vision or challenge,
  3. Methodology Maturity:
    1. Outlasts CEOs,
    2. Limits expansion if it can’t be implemented maturely.
  4. Improvement Culture:
    1. Creates a winning team environment since everyone is always working on it,
    2. Solidifies and relies on the idea that everyone is the expert on what they are working on,
    3. Stimulates achievable improvement steps with mentoring, and,
    4. Creates a culture of greatness.
  5. Adoption Rate: 95%,
  6. Reward: $20,
  7. Goal: Improve every process every day,
  8. Breath: On every Value Stream,
  9. Structure: Well-defined,
  10. Metrics: Well-defined,
  11. Effect on Employees: Empowering and creating constant improvement in thinking, and
  12. Employee Growth Opportunities: Up the chain of command.
Utilize your All Your Company’s Minds: “Improve every process, every day with 11 Continuous Improvement Ideas/person/year”

In-depth Overview of How you Attain 11 Continuous Improvement Ideas per Person per Year in a Quest for Perfection

VP brings a business perspective and Vision. The VP understands the business strategy and the importance of the team’s focus on executing it. Above all, they understand the Leading Kata Continuous Improvement methodology and its value.

The Business VP either defines a Vision, which focuses his team in a direction, or defines a Challenge. The Challenge has an accomplished to date.

Challenge: For instance, He may need to accommodate 30% business growth in the next 3 years.

Alternate Challenge: Decrease the time through a Value Stream Map by 1 week within one year.

Business Leader


The VP is considered a Coach to the Value Stream Manager and the Value Stream Manager is considered a Learner relative to the VP.

Supported by predefined Coaching Questions.

Coach and Learner come as a combination. The Coaches responsibility is to guide the Learner through the process.
Subsequently, the Learner does just that, learns. These two individuals act as a team. Every Coach has a Learner and every Learner has a Coach. This concept propagates all the way up to the VP.  There are 6 predefined questions that every Coach can start with.

Value Stream Manager

Value Stream Manager

The Value Stream Manager is key in generating 11 Continuous Improvement Ideas per person per year and has responsible of:

  • Building the Current State Value Stream (CSVS),
  • Building the Future State Value Stream (FSVS), and
  • Supporting their team’s selection of Target Conditions (Explained later)

If the VP does not have a strategy to deliver then the Value Stream Manager can develop their own requirements for the Value Stream by using the structure of the Kata Continuous Improvement program.

To enable rapid and complete communication the Value Stream Manager will set up an especially relevant Learners’ Storyboard. This storyboard will include:

  • Target Condition (TC) – A TC is an interim requirement with a due date for a process improvement that moves you toward a Challenge. You iterate to your challenge or vision through Target Conditions. Each TC has a due date.
  • Challenge – Subsequently, this comes from the VP and represents the end goal that the TC marches towards.
  • Current Condition (CC) – Represents detailed documentation of current performance
  • Experimenting Record – This contains documentation of experiments performed to reach the TC.
  • Obstacles Parking Lot – The move from the CC to the TC encounters obstacles. Some obstacles are predictable ahead of time and some aren’t. All of the obstacles are listed here.

The Value Stream Manager also builds the schedule.

Challenge: Improve processing velocity by 30% in 2 years.

Next Challenge: Reduce Defects by 5% in one year.

Supported by predefined Coaching Questions

Value Stream Loop Manager or Process Manager

Value Stream Loop Manager

The responsibilities of the Value Stream Loop Manager include reviewing the CC and analyzing how this impacts the Value Stream. This manager will publish the current condition and then distill Process requirements to help determine the TC.

The VS Loop Manager initiates the Coaching Summary Board which summarizes:

  • Learners
  • Coaches
  • TC
  • Dates

This Summary Board displays responsible individuals which facilitate successful communication. TC goals, and the experiments and expected results.

The VS Loop Manager is responsible for starting the CC/TC Form and also determining the requirements for the TC through back-and-forth dialogue with the Coach and Learners.

Challenge: Select the top four processes to improve and push for a 10% velocity improvement in 2 months.

Next Challenge: Eliminate 30% of the inventory in 2 years.

Supported by predefined Coaching Questions

Process Manager

Process Manager

The Process Manager determines the requirements, each with a due date. Also, determine what needs to change to improve and meet the challenge. The Process Managers are one step above the operators in the company hierarchy. Process Managers are very close to what needs to improve. Subsequently, their teams are a key to success.

The Process Manager is the main driver of 11 Kata Continuous Improvement Ideas per person per year.

They will manage the CC/TC Form and populate the “Process Activities Analysis” which keeps track of the CC and the TCs. Also, the documentation of the experiments is done in the “Experimenting Record”.

The Process Manager is the Coach for the operators and works very closely with them to deliver on the TC. While working with the operators, they should use any set of tools they can think of to help them “Learn” about the process.

Challenge 1: Improve process velocity by 15% in 2 months.

Next Challenge 2: Decrease unnecessary motion by 30% in one month.

Final Challenge 3: Implement a Pull system and eliminate 50% of inventory in 1 year.

The effort starts with a thorough understanding of the CC. One way to think of it is that if you have the CC and the Vision you can draw a straight-line trajectory from one to the other. But, without fully understanding the CC, you will never know the trajectory of the improvement line.

As you move towards the Vision, your first stop is a TC. The assumption is that it is not possible to move directly from the current condition to the Vision or the Challenge, so you must get there in steps.

This is the Kata Progression Trajectory and Explanation Below

Kata for CI Progression

The movement to the first TC takes you through. Firstly, some of the Obstacles are known ahead of time and some are not. For individuals new to this process, don’t set the first Target Condition too far from the Knowledge Border so they don’t take on too many unknown Obstacles. As individuals get more comfortable with this process they will also be more comfortable venturing through areas of unknown obstacles.

The first step is to get to the first TC. The next step is to get to the second TC and so on until you accomplish the Challenge.

The states described above are explained in more detail below:

Verify the Current Condition (CC)

A firm grasp of what you are attempting to improve is important because it affects the trajectory and makes the first movement valuable.  A CC could refer to a standard processor throughput number.  Therefore, validation of the CC will keep you from trying to improve an unstable process.


Consequently, this is a key component of the Kata Continuous Improvement program. It can be out there, and possibly not attainable.  What would you really like to accomplish? For instance: 0 defects, a safe environment, 100% value-added work.  The Vision not only lets you voice a destination but also constrains the trajectory to your destination.  This is key because it focuses on improvement to accomplish predefined goals, rather than random improvements.

Target Condition (TC)

The TC is chosen carefully because it has an assigned due date that you must accomplish. The TC is also on the trajectory toward the Vision and Challenge. There may be many TCs that you moved to before you accomplish the Challenge. Thinking of a TC expands the minds of employees to think about the future of how it could be.


The TC should be a stretch goal.  It must stretch the mind.  Therefore, some Obstacles may be obvious and some may not.  The goal is to Learn. Unanticipated obstacles induce learning.  A best practice is to pick a TC and then go for it without much deliberation.  This instills learning.  Minimize encountering Obstacles to start and then increase with expanded experience.


As you move forward you will encounter unanticipated Obstacles. This is where the brain of all process participants is used to take what you know and what you have found out. Next, you do what it takes to move past these Obstacles.  As a result of this effort setting TCs closer to the CC becomes more common.

The sooner this journey is started, the quicker exceptional results roll in.

Coaches and Learners’ Relationship a Key to the Kata Continuous Improvement Program

The Coach/Learner relationship is the key that makes this whole methodology work. Above all, this methodology focuses on learning. The concept is that if you have expertise in learning you will create a competitive advantage. As learning becomes a virtue in your company, most importantly, the company will start to move forward faster.

Every manager is a coach. Subsequently, the Coaches responsibility is to lightly direct the Learner towards the success of moving closer to the Challenge. Usually, the Coaches have more expertise than the Learners and therefore must be on guard to not feed the Learner solutions.

Most importantly, every manager can also be a Learner. This methodology should propagate completely up and down an organization. The goal is Policy Propagation which leads to action. The following section includes a starter set of questions for both the Coaches and Learners.

The graphic below highlights the Coach/Learner relationship between the different levels of individuals, therefore, leading to constant improvement.

Potential Questions for the Coach

Coaching Kata questions:
  1. What is the Challenge?
  2. What is the Target Condition,
  3. Explain the Current Condition,
  4. Critically, What Obstacles do you think are preventing you from reaching the Target Condition?
    • Which “one” are you addressing now?
  5. What is your Step? (Experiment)
    • What do you Expect?
  6. Above all, How quickly can we go and see what we have learned from taking that step?
Reflection Questions for the Coach
  • What did you plan as your Last Step?
  • What did you Expect?
  • Explain what happened.
  • What did you learn?

As a result of implementing the Kata Continuous Improvement Program, the business will accelerate toward tangible business benefits.

In Conclusion

Lastly, Improving by 11 Continuous Improvement ideas per person per year in a defined direction is a Program. It requires that you manage your system by focusing on Value through Value Streams.

Therefore, by implementing the Kata Continuous Improvement program you will make time, your ally

In Conclusion, Toyota’s Kata Continuous Improvement Program Races Towards Your Vision.

Methodology summary above or review the 13 min video here:

Kata Continuous Improvement