by Lisa Pustelak, NWIRC Strategic Business Advisor and Employee Development Specialist

Toyota Kata is nothing new. The concept was introduced over a decade ago and NWIRC has been tuned in for several years now. This mindset first came to light when Mike Rother, a professor and author, studied Toyota’s management system. He learned that Toyota, “practices and teaches a pattern of scientific thinking every day (to develop a habit), with managers and supervisors as the coaches”. NWIRC is lucky to have two Toyota Kata practitioners. Tom Weible and I have conducted workshops and worked with companies to teach how kata can be used for developing a culture of continuous improvement. As part of the NIST MEP* national network, we recently participated in piloting a new process for introducing the Toyota Kata practice in our region.

Participants from a few manufacturing companies learned how to approach problems with a different mindset during classroom workshops and onsite learning. One of the primary teachings of the improvement kata is that it’s ok to say, “I don’t know”. This is one of the favorite statements for an Improvement Kata Coach because it’s followed by, “let’s go find out”. A kata practice is based on ensuring that our knowledge is based on facts and data, and if we can’t prove it, our next experiment is to learn what we don’t know. For example, our onsite host company for this workshop was Onex, Inc and they were not certain exactly how long a product needed to be on a vibrating table to ensure there were no holes from bubbles in the material once it dried. A couple of quick experiments taught us that one full minute on the vibrating table eliminated the bubbles. It also eliminated the time and expense of filling those holes.

Onex employees (top) Michael Bleil, Jr and Kyle Hansen, and (bottom) Jim Stover are working through a kata experiment to improve the efficiency height level of a precast pour.

Another benefit of the kata practice is engaging your people. Leaders don’t always have the answers, and sometimes the team needs to see for themselves whether an idea will work or not. Another experiment during the workshop was quickly able to show a team member that simply turning over a product would not eliminate the debris inside of it. However, the next experiment of one person flipping the item and another brushing it out worked great and eliminated 100% of the debris. It also saved significant time on the original process.

Toyota Kata allows team members to think differently and experiment with their ideas for improvement. It also allows the leaders to develop their team and become better coaches. Deploying kata has helped many companies shift their culture from employees doing what they’re told… to an engaged team constantly looking for ways to improve on their own, using the skill and creating a habit of scientific thinking.

*National Institute for Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership


Side Note: Reach out to Lisa Pustelak for more information on Toyota Kata at