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July 25, 2011

Review of “Toyota Kata” by Mike Rother

“Toyota Kata” could be the most important book on “lean” since “The Toyota Way”. Based on six years research at Toyota, Mike Rother’s book provides a very readable and straightforward approach to embedding continuous improvement – putting the “principles” of the Toyota Production System into action. 

Interestingly, Mr Rother argues that the “Kaizen Event” approach to improvement is not effective or sustainable because, at best, each process area will only get one or two bursts of improvement in a year. This is not continuous improvement and does truly engage the workforce. He also argues that such events produce lists of improvements which are taken on by engineers and managers as “projects” to be completed. The project approach to improvement has little impact on changing the culture of the organisation. 

Instead Mike Rother argues for constant daily improvement – thus “kata” – a simple PDCA routine which is enacted every day by everyone in the process, and supported and coached by managers and team leaders who have roughly 50% of their time allocated to teaching this approach to improvement. Small step-by-step improvements are more effective over time than occasional kaizen bursts, and have a significantly greater impact on the organisation culture -creating an environment of involvement and improvement. 

The book describes this “improvement kata” routine with a rapid cycle of small improvements. It is one of the most interesting books I have read in years. The “lean tools” are touched on briefly – described as methods for highlighting obstacles in a controlled manner for improvement – but this book is about the behavioural routines that, by persistent and regular teaching at all levels in the organisation, become the embedded culture. 

Everyone working in the field of lean, in any industry or organisation, should read this book. It will open your eyes to what is really necessary. If you only read one business book this year, then this should be it. This book has changed my thinking on lean – particularly on implementation. It is truly an excellent work.