Here’s a reprise of an article, Toyota Kata: A Lean Strategy for Keeping Up with the Pace of Change, published a couple years ago by Brian Lagas, Technical Manager at NIST MEP. A good time to revisit kata, just before an upcoming training program.


by Brian Lagas, Technical Manager at NIST MEP

“Why are our changeovers taking so long?” If you’ve asked this question on the shop floor, more than likely you were met with blank stares by your employees. Open-ended questions like this are overwhelming, so employees try to find quick answers that don’t really address the problem. They don’t have a starting point to form an answer.

But what if you asked a question with a specific, achievable goal? “What steps can we take to reduce changeover time by 15 minutes?” You’ve then provided your employees with a measurable goal in the form of a question. Your workers may feel empowered to answer with some hands-on suggestions for incremental changes, such as reducing setup steps or combining workstations. This in turn could not only reduce changeover time, but significantly eliminate wait times and inventories.

This approach is often described as Kaizen, or “continuous improvement,” which serves as the backbone for lean manufacturing. Kaizen uses the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) problem-solving cycle to encourage manufacturers to use small ideas to solve big problems, such as costly, time-intensive changeovers. These methodologies are the building blocks of Toyota Kata, an innovative, lean way of thinking described in the book by Mike Rother, Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results. In essence, Toyota Kata goes beyond problem-solving to teach management, engineers, and operators a new mindset to develop their creative and scientific-thinking skills to make them more effective, lean manufacturers. This approach looks at lean manufacturing as a culture, rather than a single process.

With the world of manufacturing evolving at a breathtaking pace thanks to developments such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), labor skill gaps, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Toyota Kata gives smaller manufacturers a lean strategy to help them grow with these developments. It empowers employees with the skills they can use to continuously improve, adapt, and generate ideas for a strategic, competitive advantage.

While smaller manufacturers may not have the level of strategic resources like the behemoth Toyota, they can apply the same methodologies of Toyota Kata, including:

  • Developing new habits and allowing people to think differently about problems and goals
  • A way of working, and of working together
  • Using scientific thinking as an ingredient to make teams and organizations more effective and successful
  • Developing a culture of continuous learning and improvement at all levels through deliberate practice

Implementation of Toyota Kata begins with the aptly-named Starter Kata. Starter Kata focuses on small protocols and processes that, when practiced early and often, help manufacturing employees learn faster and teaches them to work more collaboratively. The two main elements of Starter Kata are Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata.

Side Note: NWIRC is offering an Improvement and Coaching Kata Workshop, for training employees to overcome obstacles, on February 10 & 11 with TWI Certified Facilitator, Tom Weible. Registration includes a 2-hour onsite coaching session. See more details at