Getting started with the improvement kata

There are a lot of great ideas out there to get you started on the improvement kata and practice a new way of thinking. In this blog we will take a look at them. In each step of the improvement kata there are tools available to help you master the pattern of scientific thinking. 
Starter kata with the tools

Preparing your kata practice

We have talked about some crucial prerequisites for getting started in a previous blog. Aside from those crucial preparation steps you also need to:
  • Select the learner, coach and second coach
  • Select the focus process
  • Schedule the daily coaching cycle
  • Make a blank learner's storyboard
  • Print some 5 question cards

Following the storyboard

The storyboard

When you learn a new skill you first try to master the technique and the tools before you start personalizing them. The same applies here: You start with the standard storyboard as shown above.

Understand the challenge

The challenge gives your improvement efforts purpose. It states where you are heading, but not how you get there. It can be a big idea a long way in the future, or a more practical idea that gives you purpose in your day to day work. It should be postively stated, have a clear timeframe, be measurable and written down like it is already a reality. The manager will state the challenge. The job of the learner is to grasp the challenge and ask questions when necessary. The manager needs to state what the challenge is, why it is important, but not how he feels it should be achieved. 

Grasp the current situation

You need to go and see the focus process for yourself. This part of the improvement kata is about process analysis. From the challenge you decide which process to improve by looking at: 
Grape the current state

We have talked about most of the metrics in my previous posts about value stream mapping. Aside from understanding the metrics you also need to understand process patterns. Why does it produce the results it does? What means are used? 

The idea is to keep learning and improve your understanding during the entire cycle. So it is advised to have your board and coaching cycles at the places the process is executed. You keep coming back to the process and keep learning. This will also mean measuring certain metrics several times during the improvement cycle because new information has become available. 

Be kind to yourself when are still practicing. This step can take a couple of days the first times. You then take the step you have analyzed to the daily coaching moment until you have an initial grasp of the current operating pattern. When you have your current state you can put it on the board. 

Current and target condition

Defining your next current condition (target condition)

A target condition consists of:

  • An achieve-by date: A date about one week to three months out
  • Desired outcome performance: An outcome metric and the value you want it to have
  • Desired operating pattern: How the process should be operating and how to measure this 

You can add more detail to your target condition, but you cannot change the target condition or the achieve by date. As you can see the target condition does not state solutions or actions, just desired outcomes. It is not necessary to change all the metrics on the form above during one cycle. You can also (preferably) change one of two. This way you will keep a firm grasp on possible causes for surprises and be able to keep focussing on scientific thinking more easily. 

When coach and learner are talking through the target condition they will see obstacles to reaching the target condition. These go on the obstacles parking lot. The obstacles parking lot is not an action list. You do not need to solve them right now. In the next coaching cycles you can improve on them or you can remove them when new information shows they are no longer relevant. 

When you do not reach your target condition on the achieve by date it is still a great learning opportunity. 

Experimenting towards the target condition

Time to (finally) get into action and start experimenting. There are some important things to keep in mind here:
  • Experimenting is not about Implementing solutions. It is about testing what works towards your target condition. 
  • Surprises and wrong expectations are important moments in experiments and help you learn and improve.
  • Keep the experiments quick and frequent to increase learning.
  • Choose one obstacle to work on and write it on the experimenting record (see below).
  • Make sure you fill out the prediction. This will help you uncover biases and learn from your expectations. 
  • Design your experiment before conducting it and use the coaching cycle to improve on you design. You can go and see, test your hypothesis and do a test. 
  • When both you and the coach agree you can conduct the experiment. 
  • Before you start a new experiment you reflect with the coach on what happened, how it was different from your prediction and what you have learned. 
Experimenting record

Learn and improve

You need to keep evaluating on a meta level as well as the micro level. The meta level is about how your are doing in your new pattern of thinking. What worked well this cycle and what did not yet work so well. How can you improve on this for the next cycle? It is about self reflection and reflection on the role of the other as well. You look at your mindset (open, learning disposition), your questions as a coach and a learner during the cycle, preparation of the cycles, collaboration and interaction with colleagues during the cycle, setting target condition and grasping the current condition. You look at people and processes as well as the problem. 


I have learned a lot from the approach of Mike Rother and borrowed heavily from him. The pictures are from his work and links are included to the original presentation. I have also included my own thoughts in a previous blog and a quiz. In a next blog we will look at the starter kata for coaches.


Add Comment

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.