Good Reads: Toyota KATA Culture

Mike Rother and John Shook awakened the world in 1999 with their seminal book, Learning to See – Value Stream Mapping to Add Value and Eliminate Muda.  It taught us how to see flow.  But it was Mike’s research over the next decade that led to Toyota KATA (TK) – Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Results in 2010.  In it he revealed the true reasons for the huge velocity & quality differences between North American and Japanese manufacturing paradigms and in so doing, opened our minds to the power of these ‘routines and thinking’ that produced that difference.  It has enabled us to truly understand the things we can see (the routines), and the things we cannot see (the thinking), that have produced the spectacular Toyota production system through their interplay.  Thanks to Mike’s research the gap is rapidly narrowing.  But to really close the gap requires KATA Thinking – the discipline of routines, thinking, and commitment that your kids in martial arts already know.

Mike received the Shingo Prize for Research in 2011 for TK – a book founded on two key pillars – the Improvement KATA, and the Coaching KATA  The interplay of these two KATAs brought new TK process insights and an emphasis on employee engagement.  Together, they yield new process-thinking that drives in great value, while driving out great waste.   At the same time, it creates a hunger for a corporate-wide TK culture to accelerate competitiveness (as Lean did when it was introduced.)  The challenge is to inspire & equip value-adding team members with the tools, routines, and thinking that will produce behaviours that will evolve the right new corporate culture.  This new book will equip you to do this. 

 Toyota KATA Culture (TKC) – Building Organizational Capability and Mindset Through KATA Coaching  was published in May, 2017.  It is written by Mike Rother and Gerd Aulinger.  And it begins with Mike reminding us that, “We never know exactly what steps will lead to our goals, but we can practice and learn how to reach goals.  But the structure of the organization should be designed for one purpose: to facilitate, and not interrupt, the flow of the core work process.”  A recent meeting illustrated Mike’s Scientific Approach and reminded me of the work we have yet to do to diminish the impulse to chase ‘shiny objects’, and also to quash our fascination for rabbit holes – not to mention the blind pursuit of the ‘next big thing’.  One notices that the ‘next big things’ are introduced to us by someone who wants to sell them to us – not solve our problems.  This book strips away these issues and replaces them with solid process.

We need the process, and cultural toughness, to become more disciplined.  This book is that ‘missing piece’ to culture-building.  Mike describes TKC as: “A book that shows you how to scale up individual practice of the Improvement KATA and Coaching KATA across an entire organization, to create team Scientific Thinking capabilities that can be applied to any changing objective.”

ATJ recommends beginning with Toyota KATA (TK) as a platform for Toyota KATA Culture (TKC).  TKC by itself is a great choice because of its common-sense scientific approach that’s presented in a very clean and learning-rich layout.  And as Mike always provides, you will have access to his supporting resources and research, such as those found on his personal website at .  Check it out.  But take a lunch, you may be in this site for while.

The Chapter Sub-Titles are Revealing

  1. Introduction: Making an Aligned Organization a Reality
  2. Planning: Going a Little Slower to Then be Focused and Fast
  3. Executing: Working like a Scientist to Reach The Next Target Condition
  4. Expanding Upward: The Improvement KATA and Coaching KATA Are Scalable Approaches for Managing an Improving, Adapting, Innovating Organization
  5. Expanding Sideways: Using the Improvement KATA and Coaching KATA to Handle Obstacles at the Interfaces and Coordinate Improvement Teams
  6. Conclusion: The Pattern and Practice Routines of the Improvement KATA and Coaching KATA Help You Create a Deliberate Culture

Never Underestimate the Power of Culture

By 2018, we could be striving to build cultures that are Vision-driven; Waste-free; Respecting of all people; have Employee Engagement in place, and, have Innovation & TKC thinking in their breakfast cereal every morning.  But let’s be clear.  Culture is king when it comes to sustainable competitiveness.  As Doc Hall used to say in describing a common definition of a work culture:  “It’s the way we do things around here… Change the way we do things, and we change our work culture by default, if not by intent. If it changes how people basically work, a big IT system change is culture wrenching. So are Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma, whether blended together or not. As soon as implementation goes beyond an experiment in a corner, everyone in an organization, including its top management, has to learn how to work and behave differently. Desired is a cohesive culture using the system effectively, rather than sub-cultures at war, fighting for control, which is why the human side of this change takes the most attention.”

Today, it is culture that wins – not lone wolves!  Today’s winners are disciplined Vision-Driven, People & Customer-Focused entities with cultures that are sustainability-based, with process-based routine behaviors that include:  A Positive No-Blame environment; True Respect for all; Integrity; Openness & Humility;  Lean Process-based Continuous Improvement;  and Teamwork… all of which is committed to personal and corporate growth.  (Doc is now focusing on Compression – how to do more with less at

In Summary

TKC, as Mike and Gerd explain, “Paints a picture of how you can turn strategy and execution into every-day activity at all levels.”  Mike’s TK winner in 2010, has become the global go-to reference for all things KATA-related today.  It should already be on your shelf.  It has had – and continues to have – a profound effect on manufacturers around the world.  The addition of TKC will amplify the number of organizations committing to KATA Thinking for their own competitive reasons.

Toyota Kata Culture – Building Organizational Capability and Mindset Through KATA Coaching  has just landed and it builds solidly on Mike’s superb TK platform.   Whatever tools we use to achieve our goals, we must collectively be able to understand them and leverage them.    It is an ATJ recommendation to have both of Mike’s KATA books at hand on your shelf.  In Canada, they may be purchased through Amazon.    For further depth, you can see/meet Mike when he keynotes in Boston at this year’s AME October Lean Conference– or next year in June at the Canadian Lean Conference in Winnipeg.

For further exposure, never neglect the videos available free on YouTube.  There are a large number of training videos showing what other companies are doing with TK.   Check out the 2016 KATACon3 conference at,

Both TK and TKC are expanding beyond Manufacturing into Healthcare, Government, Service and more with Pop-Up/Spontaneous exchanges appearing informally.  Recently, such an exchange was held along the border of Washington State and Canada’s Province of British Columbia.  It was a spontaneous meeting of a small group of KATA practitioners to exchange Toyota KATA experiences.  According to The Learning Factor’s Tracy Defoe, who helped organize this one, there will be others.  If interested you can email her at