Skill Level Intermediate
- One of the methodologies we'll be using a lot in this course is the improvement kata. The improvement kata is a scientific and systematic approach to problem solving first developed by Toyota. The kata is devised into two different parts. There's a planning phase and an execution phase. The planning phase is where we apply critical thinking around problem solving or challenges that we wish to address. The execution phase is about executing those solutions or ideas or experiments that we wish to test some of the hypotheses that we develop during the critical thinking phase.
There's four main steps involved in a kata. The first is the challenge, understanding a direction or a challenge that we wish to solve. For instance, one of the current challenges at Toyota is to have 0% emissions from cars by 2020. This is an organizational challenge that the whole company is trying to resolve. The next step is to grasp the current condition. The current condition's really trying to understand what is the current performance or system of work as it is today? Often what teams do will model or monitor the current system to get a sense of how is it currently operating? What are its current conditions, performance, and, potentially, metrics? The next step is to look at a target condition.
And a target condition is often an aspirational goal that we're striving towards, often beyond our existing knowledge threshold. Finally, after completing the planning and critical thinking phase, it's about execution. How do we execute some of the experiments that we believe that will resolve and help us move from our current condition to our target condition aligned to the goal or challenge that we're trying to solve? So what do these steps look like in practice? Well, first of all, the most important thing to define initially is the challenge, its division, direction that we're trying to move towards.
This is often one of the most key activities of leadership, is to focus and define challenges that teams can solve. From there, it's about us understanding the current condition of our system of work or our product, service, or process that we're trying to improve. Now, interestingly, about setting target conditions, this is one of the challenges we see from most organizations. Teams are either in a fearful environment where they're afraid to set goals that they believe won't be achieved because they'll be punished, or they set challenges or target conditions that they know are easily attainable.
These are really dangerous because essentially what you're practicing is experiment theater. It making it look like you're trying to teach these target conditions that you either know are superficial are really easy to do. The goal of a target condition is to push our knowledge beyond our existing threshold. So we truly have to come up with potential experiments that we might not know the exact result of. By doing this, it forces us to think in a different way to put stress on the existing systems of work or product and make new discoveries.
The goal then is to define those experiments to help us move towards those target conditions and have breakthroughs in our knowledge, thinking, and perception of the world. One of the techniques I always do when we're doing these exercises of trying to come to defining improvement kata cycles, get a cross-functional team together, a group of stakeholders that have buy-in or interest in the problem that you're trying to solve. Sit down together and describe some target outcomes that you want to try and achieve. Write them down. Work together to understand how the current system, product, or service is performing.
And then together define some interesting target conditions that you can work towards. It's really important to define success before you start to run these kata cycles to provide you with accountability and a feedback mechanism to understand if you're moving towards your desired direction. We really encourage you to familiarize yourself with this model as we'll be using it not only in product development, but also process improvement models and governance risk and compliance attempts in other modules.
Why don't you get a cross-functional team together and discuss one of the challenges you're trying to solve now in your team? What's the current condition? What's the target condition you could work towards in the next week, month, maybe even the next day to try and solve that? Can you sit down together and define all of those? And then come up with some experiments to try and move to that target condition. Experiments could be really simple. You could just sit down and have a conversation with someone beside you and try something different in the next hour. Give it a go.