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Why Do We Need Toyota KATA?
Jozef Krišťak, 19. 08. 2016

We probably will not find a company in the world that is fully satisfied with the results of the improvement activities and Lean culture implementation. In most cases when the first results arrive the issue of their long-term sustainability appears. Many companies have introduced some approaches (5S, Kaizen,…) for several times. A special area is the rate of people’s involvement to the improvement activities. Mostly it is a small group of people who often divide their work to the area of improvement and the daily routine. We spoke with Tilo Schwarz how to solve these issues.

Tilo Schwarz is a management trainer and KATA coach who leads the managers during the corporate culture change projects towards continuous improvement. 

How were your Lean beginning steps when you start your carrier?

I started my personal Lean journey when I joint Festool in 2003. At that time Festool had already many lean tools and a production system in place. So I started with Lean in the same way probably many others did. With copying the Lean tools from the Toyota production system.

How was it successful? What operate and what not?

Besides the success we generated through this we realized more and more that it was hard to keep results form improvement workshops sustainable. We also realized that only a few people where really driving the improvement process. That limited the impact and speed we could have. And last but not least we where running out of solutions. We thought we had copied everything there was form Toyota.

Finally we understood, that we had to switch our focus from the visible solutions and tools to the ability and mindset below the surface. We also understood that in order to make improvement really a part of the daily work we would foremost have to change the focus and way of our own behavior as management team.

How do you start with cooperation with Mike Rother?

I got to know Mike in 2007 when he shared his thoughts about the way managers at Toyota where managing. This fit perfectly with the obstacles and questions we where facing in our Lean journey at Festool at that time. So my management team an I started experimenting with the management pattern Mike had uncovered at Toyota and which we today call the Toyota kata.

What have you learned from Mike?

When I was struggling with the question how to make improvement really continuous within my team Mike showed me how establishing new behavior patterns is possible through kata. Culture is the summ of common behaviors. If we want to enable a culture of continuous improvement we need to change the existing behaviors especially in management. Mike showed me a way how to do this.

How do you define a Lean? Why is Lean still important?

Lean is constantly striving for a next challenge in all processes and enabling people to master the challenge.

Which company can be a best example of Lean implementation. Is it Toyota all the time? Who will chance to overcome Toyota?

I think we should stop benchmarking. Each company is in a different situation. With the copy past approach we will, at best, stay one step behind. Also when we look to other companies we just see the tip of the iceberg. The solutions, the tools. This is why in the Lean community we have stayed for so long with copying the lean tools. The lean tools only provide a „what", a solution that at best will work mediocre in our individual circumstances. With the kata we have, for the first time, a „how". A „how" to find our own solutions. This is what we should strive for. Creating teams and organizations that have the ability to find ever new solutions for their specific situation. Then we will reach true excellence.

How do you describe changes in the management last decade and now?

As we are facing more and more volatile market conditions, a world where global interdependencies have increased and technological development has reduced hurdles to enter a market for new competitors the focus of management must change. It’s not about who has the best solution today but who has the highest ability to be quickly adaptive and continuously innovative. The focus has changed form content to ability. Ability of people has become the decisive competitive factor.

What is role of managers and leaders in Lean?

If ability is the decisive competitive factor increasing problem solving ability throughout the organization by training everybody the improvement kata and making continuous improvement part of the daily work on all levels is the number one management task.

What are the biggest problems to change in management mind?

Managers get payed and promoted for getting things done. That is why we so easily fall into the trap of doing things ourself or at least get things done our way and with our solution. Doing this creates teams that are dependent on their manager and in turn the manager gets the bottleneck and everybody gets frustrated. Never the less we are so used to this that we feel uncomfortable in giving people self control and letting our grip on the solution go.

Why it is so hard to engage people in improvement?

First because we have focused so many years on the Taylorian approach. Split work into ever smaller pieces, define scientifically the best practice as standard and train people first and foremost to keep the standard. We have trained people to focus on keeping the status quo. Secondly, wenn it comes to problems, we have promoted those that are quick with solutions. We are all a bunch of solution oriented firefighters. This is quick when we face problems we have experience with but impossible for improving towards challenges in the unknown zone we have no experience with and therefor no solution for. It is sad but people and whole companies trained for finding quick counter measures get stuck with the „this is impossible" statement when facing real improvement challenges that need break through innovation. They see no other option.

How practically support people?

To enable teams and individuals to continuously improve their processes and reach challenging goals management needs to do 3 things:

  1. Give direction by putting a long term vision in place and setting process targets aligned with the vision instead of result targets by establishing the challenge generator.
  2. Increase problem solving ability with the improvement kata by training people on the job.
  3. Enable self motivation by truly giving people self control about their solutions for improvement and making improvement a habit through daily using the coaching kata on all levels.

What is your message for management conference in Zilina?

We need leadership that plants orange trees, not management that quenches the last juice from picked oranges.


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