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Lean Tools, Training, and Systems

Kata Lean Coaching Cycle

aka Toyota Kata, Improvement Kata, Coaching Kata

What's a kata?

A kata is any structured way of thinking and acting that you practice until the pattern becomes a habit.

Through practicing, the pattern of behavior becomes second nature; so that you just "do what you do" with little or no conscious attention.

training wheels motorbike

In your own life, you have experienced many real-world examples where you started out with very concentrated attention to learning a new skill, which soon became so ingrained and familiar that you now just do the basic patterns without thinking much about them...

leaving your conscious attention free to focus on the ever-changing challenges that happen as you "do what you do".

Why are kata habits important?

They provide field-proven, teachable, repeatable model ways of thinking and acting — when faced with different types of situations commonly encountered in your real-world work environment.

How do kata habits apply to process improvement?

Every process improvement tool is paired with a "method".
If practiced regularly, every lean method could evolve into a kata habit.

There are two kata patterns, however, that provide an over arching methodology that can serve as background pattern within which all other lean tools and methods are used. These are the two kata patterns taught by Mike Rother in his book, Toyota Kata.

  1. The Improvement Kata
  2. The Coaching Kata

We highly recommend that you purchase the book and download the (free) accompanying Toyota Kata Handbook, because the training is far deeper than you will find in our web site.

And the more that you learn and practice these two foundational kata, the more that you will grow to appreciate your Systems2win templates.


The Improvement Kata

What is the Process Improvement Kata?

When navigating unclear territory in your pursuit to improve a process, your Improvement Kata is a systematic, teachable way to think and act to consistently develop creative solutions to meet strategic goals

When to use the Improvement Kata?

When navigating unknown territory

What unknown territory?

The unknown territory that is always just over the horizon of the already-familiar threshold of understanding, and always contains the most promising break-through ideas.

Unknown Territory

My Improvement Kata?

Notice that we say your Improvement Kata, because there is not just one "best way" for everyone, and one of the best things you can do for your career is to develop and master your own Process Improvement Kata.

4 Phases of the Improvement Kata

The Improvement Kata has 4 phases:

  1. Strategic Alignment
  2. Process Analysis
  3. Next Goal Setting
  4. PDCA

each of which has a distinct kata habit pattern of its own, and each of which need to be learned, practiced, and mastered both individually and in concert with each other.

the Improvement Kata

The first 3 phases are for Planning.


Phase 1) Strategic Alignment

Improvement Kata Planning Phase 1

What is Strategic Alignment?

You (the person responsible for the process also known as the "Learner") need to develop teachable, repeatable habits for how to work with your Coach to understand what is needed from the process that you are responsible for improving, so that your efforts (and perhaps your team's efforts) are sharply focused to overcome obstacles in the way of reaching the next Target Condition required of your process to meet the higher-level Strategic Challenge (that requires coordinated effort of multiple people and teams) to propel your collective organization closer to the (perhaps impossible) Lean Ideals that provide "true North" direction toward which everyone in your organization is always striving.

Coaching to Strategic Targets

Learn more about coaching to a Strategic Challenge on our training page for Lean Principles.

How to do it?

Your organization's strategic objectives, measures, targets, and action programs are formed and communicated through:

  1. your Future State Value Stream Map
  2. your process for Strategic Planning, and/or Hoshin Kanri Policy Deployment

Coaching for how to actually realize that strategic vision is done through coaching questions, and your Lean Management System.

Coaching Question

What Strategic Challenge are we striving for?


Once Strategic Alignment as been done once, you don't need to do it again until upper management changes the Strategic Challenge.


Phase 2) Process Analysis

Improvement Kata Planning Phase 2

What is Process Analysis?

Before prematurely spouting out your pre-conceived ideas for "what we should do next", the next step is to take the time to do a thorough and scientific kata for process analysis.

This is one of the moments when your Coach will often prove most helpful — to prevent you from running off to quickly implement your impulsive "solutions" before taking the time to perform a thorough root cause analysis.

How to do it?

Every process that is currently going through a PCDA cycles should have a visual storyboard published on a large bulletin board as close as possible to the process work area.

Your organization and/or departmental leaders will evolve to use Team Accountability Board formats that work best for your needs, but any lean storyboard should include some common elements.

Using a common Storyboard format has several advantages:

  1. Makes it easier for your Coaches to work consistently with multiple Learners
  2. Provides a fill-in-the-blanks road map to remind each Learner to follow ALL of the steps of the Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata systems. (without cutting corners, or forgetting something important)
  3. Anyone passing by can see how progress is coming — with just a quick glance
Lean Learner's Storyboard

Focus Process


Strategic Challenge

<Brief, compelling vision statement that almost never changes>

See guidelines for how to phrase your Strategic Challenge

Target Condition

Achieve by: <date>

<Brief description
that usually only changes
when one Target is achieved,
and the Next Target is chosen>

See online training
for Next Goal Setting

Value Stream Map
Process Analysis

Current Condition

See online training
for Process Analysis

Cycle Time Observations
Block Diagram
Machine Balance template

PDCA Cycles Record

See online training
for PDCA template

PDCA template

Obstacles Parking Lot

Unprioritized list of things that you
might need to address
in future PDCA Cycles.

(You focus on only
one obstacle at a time)

Sample Lean Storyboard example — in the format suggested for Toyota Kata Coaching

(publish on a large bulletin board)

Your Coach should have some suggestions for what to include in process analysis for your unique type of process in your unique industry.

Common tools for process analysis might include:

Process Observation

Spaghetti Diagram

How not to do it

When using the Improvement Kata approach to process improvement, you are specifically discouraged from combining the concepts of Process Analysis and the identification of the 7 types of waste. These should be two separate and distinct activities.

Why? See the explanation in our training page for Process Analysis.

Also... the Learner updates the storyboard — not the Coach.

Coaching Question

How are things being done now? (really)


Every time that you reach your next Target Condition for your process, you (with the guidance of your Coach) will again re-analyze the (now improved) process, and will again establish a new next Target Condition and then you will complete a new series of PDCA Coaching Cycles to overcome obstacles to reach that next Target Condition until your process is able to consistently meet all of the criteria needed to support the current Strategic Challenge for your parent Department or Value Stream.

And then you can either:

  1. Encourage upper management to come up with a new Strategic Challenge, or
  2. Take a break from continuous improvement for a while, and give your Coach more time to focus on the other teams that still need to overcome obstacles to reach the current (shared) Strategic Challenge.

See Ideas for what to do with free time and spare cash created by systems improvement


Phase 3) Next Goal Setting

Improvement Kata Planning Phase 3

Coaching Questions

What is the Target Condition for THIS process? (needed to meet the Strategic Challenge)

What do we want this process to be like next?

How will we measure that? What specific targets?


Criteria for a well-considered Next Target Condition

Criteria for a well-considered Next Target Condition

What if we try to do PDCA without a clear Target Condition?

Go ahead & try it. Do your own scientific experiment. Here is our hypothesis:

Your scattered PDCA efforts will be an exercise in random wasted effort — optimizing things that aren't important, while critical success factors languish.

Quality, Cost, and/or Delivery Time success measures for your process will soon backslide.

Your team will spiral into periods of dysfunction — with in-fighting, disengagement, and low morale.


Next Goal Setting is done immediately after Process Analysis.


Phase 4) PDCA Coaching Cycles

PDCA is how your Mentor helps you to actually reach your agreed-upon goals

Once you and your Coach agree upon a plan...

then you use the Systems2win PDCA template and PDCA Coaching Observations template to start a rapid series of Coaching Cycles to conduct a rapid series of PDCA experiments to overcome obstacles to reaching your agreed-upon goals for improving your process.

Coaching Questions

Between every PDCA experiment, you and your Coach will do a coaching session together.

Prior to that Coaching Session, you will use your PDCA template to prepare your answers, because you know that your Coach will ask the same questions every time.

Immediately after each Coaching Session, your Coach's Coach will use the PDCA Coaching Observations template to mentor both you and your Coach to more fully and deeply instill the nuances of the deceptively-simple teachings and habits of both the Improvement Kata and the Coaching Kata.

PDCA Coaching template

PDCA Coaching Observations template


Rapid. You will often complete one or more PDCA Coaching Cycles in a single day.

Your Coach should be asking you, "What is the earliest that we can go see the result of this next experiment?"
And your answer should often be "Today" or "Tomorrow".


The Coaching Kata


A coaching pattern to help you teach the Improvement Kata thinking pattern.

How to do it?

The instructions for how to do the Improvement Kata (above) give you a pretty good start for what to do as the Coach, and Mike Rother's web site provides extensive training for how to serve as a Coach to guide your Learner's through the Improvement Kata.

The Learner works on the what of the(above) steps of the Improvement Kata The Coach works on how the Learner approaches it.

The Coach teaches a way of thinking and acting within "the Kata corridor", guiding the Learner back on course if s/he strays too far from keeping the focus on the agreed-upon Next Target Condition.

PDCA Coaching Kata Pocket Card
Coaching Kata Coaching Levels

Every Coach needs their own Coach

The same Coaching Kata method can be applied at every level.

If an internal Coach is not available, hire an external Coach to get your snowball started.


Three Levels of Skill Progression

Whenever learning any new skill, you will progress through 3 levels of competence:

1) Aware of it

2) Able to do it

3) Able to teach it

Before you start Coaching, you need to be able to competently do the Improvement Kata yourself.

Like any other skill...

Just reading about it is far different from practicing it.

To really leverage your skill development, you will practice under the mentoring of a Coach

And you will develop true mastery by overcoming obstacles in real-world situations.

Two Stages of Practice

1) Do it exactly the way your Coach teaches you to do it

2) Personalize your practice (and your tools)

For some skills, the third stage is to "do it intuitively - without thinking", but when it comes to something like the Improvement / Coaching Kata... why?

Why would you abandon your (perhaps personalized) fill-in-the-blanks templates that:

  1. Guide you reliably through the process
  2. Remind you of subtleties that you might not otherwise remember
  3. Allow you to mentor the Coaches that you coach - to coach exactly the same way that you do?

Any competent jet pilot could take off without using a flight preparation checklist template...

but would you want to be on that plane?

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Training to get you started.
Tools you won't outgrow.


Coach's Coach Mantra

Every leader that I coach is habitually coaching every team and person to habitually improve strategically aligned processes and results.

Coach Mantra

Every team and person that I coach is habitually improving
strategically aligned processes and results.

Learner Mantra

I am habitually improving strategically aligned processes and results.

guru meditating


Improvement Kata Coaching sessions should usually take only 10-20 minutes.

The next session should be scheduled as soon as the results from the next experiment can be known.

Most commonly — the next day, often as part of a regularly-scheduled daily coaching session.

Where? Usually as close as possible to the place where the work is being performed.

Pop quiz question  to see if you've been paying attention to the training on this page

When should you use the Improvement Kata?

Rephrased question: Under what circumstance should your mind be automatically triggered to start using the Improvement Kata?

If you can't remember, then go see that section of this page again, then come back here.

So if you're not <in the situation where the Improvement Kata is the right approach to use>, then you should be using your Tool Selection Matrix to find a more appropriate approach for the challenge you are facing at the moment.

And every one of those other lean tools and methods needs it's own corresponding lean coaching system, the most common being your Daily Lean Management System, and today's daily coaching session might or might not be devoted to practicing the Improvement Kata, depending on your current challenges and priorities.


Navigating unknown territory?

Use PDCA Coaching

More Lean Management Systems

The Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata are useful ways to practice and teach continuous improvement habits to navigate unknown territory throughout every level of your organization.

And by themselves, they are not enough.

You will also want to establish and use a wide variety of lean management tools and methods as you (use your own scientific experiments to) establish your own Lean Management System, which will soon evolve into your organization's own unique lean culture.

We at Systems2win are honored to be chosen by so many leading companies in so many industries to allow us to help you to continuously improve your own tools and methods for continuous improvement

If you have already chosen Systems2win

Thank you. Your continued success is the greatest honor we can receive.

To ensure your success with your Systems2win tools, be sure that every one of your Systems2win Leadership Roles is filled with motivated competent leaders.

And whenever you get a new user, remember to send them to the free New User Training, so that everyone in your organization gets the most value from your consistent standardized tools.

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Not just templates.
Not just training.

But also systems
that you won't outgrow

If you have not yet chosen Systems2win

then you can download the free trials, come to free webinar, or just contact us to see how Systems2win templates & training
might fit within and complement YOUR Lean Management Systems

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Own your templates for the Improvement Kata




to empower every team member





How to start?

Mike Rother's book,
Toyota Kata,
Chapter 9: Developing Improvement Kata Behavior in Your Organization,
has guidance to establish your Advance Group(s) consisting of your highest-level executives and managers.

And the instruction is expanded further in the discussions about Scouts, Slices, and the Rotation Model

in the chapter titled Roles and Structure for Daily Practice
in the Toyota Kata Handbook

Caution: This requires enthusiastic commitment of top-level executives.

If you don't have that, then you will need to use one of the other
Ways to Start Your Lean Journey.







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