The Improvement Kata


Kata Creates



The TK

Starter Kata


Value Stream Mapping

Supporting Materials





Improvement Kata















Kata Exercise


However, scientific thinking is not our natural, default

mode. What normally happens is that our brain

quickly and unconsciously jumps to conclusions.

Scientific thinking is not difficult, it’s just not our habit.

Adults learn scientific thinking through practice. The simple “Starter Kata” practice

routines of the Improvement Kata teach a practical scientific pattern and help change

our habits of mind. They speed up your learning and make it easier to scale up in

teams and organizations. The Improvement Kata develops and mobilizes anyone’s

creative capabilities, creative confidence, and ability to handle tough goals.

The Improvement Kata pattern comes from research on Toyota’s management

system which is explained in the business book Toyota Kata. Each step of the

Improvement Kata pattern has simple practice routines, called Starter Kata, that

make the pattern easily actionable and teachable. Instructions for the Starter Kata

are in the Toyota Kata Practice Guide.

"If you go through the Improvement Kata process

you'll get to where you need to get to.  And the

more times you do it the better you will get at it."

     ~ Jim Huntzinger, President, Lean Frontiers

"Go where there is no path

and leave a trail."   ~ Emerson

Excerpt from:  Ichijo, Kazuo and Nonaka, Ikujiro, Knowledge Creation and Management:  New Challenges for Managers, Oxford University Press, 2006, page 25.

Learning to Learn

Knowledge assets are not just the knowledge already created, such as know-how, patents, technologies, or brands, but also include the knowledge to create knowledge, such as the organizational capability to innovate.  Although current views on knowledge assets tend to focus on the former because they are easier to measure and deal with, it is the latter that need more attention because they are the source of new knowledge to be created, and therefore a source of the future value of the firm.

One of the most important knowledge assets for a firm is a firm-specific kata (roughly, "pattern" or "Way of doing things") of dialogues and practices.  Nelson and Winter (1982) emphasize the importance of routines for the firm's evolutionary process.  Here, we focus on "creative routines" of kata, which make knowledge creation possible by fostering creativity and preserving efficiency.

Improvement Kata Poster

(click image to download pdf)

Start practicing the Improvement Kata today

  1. You’re a manager who needs to run a meeting and are wondering how to best do that.

  2. You would like to add useful (and marketable) skills to your personal portfolio.

  3. You’re an educator who wants to help students learn critical-thinking STEM skills.

  4. You want to empower your teams.

  5. You’re curious about the Improvement Kata.

  6. You use Lean techniques and want to develop the necessary mindset.

  7. Your new business is growing and you need a management system.

To get an initial feel for it, print out the Improvement Kata poster and get some five

question cards. Read through the questions on the card, in the order shown, with your

team, in meetings, etc. You can also review the introductory materials shown below.

Five-Question Card

(click card to buy, or get a print template here)

Click to read about

the TK research

and findings

Four steps, and a scientific way

of achieving goals

Today's prescriptions probably won’t fit tomorrow's problems, and the path to a

challenging goal can’t be determined in advance anyway. Your best bet is to practice

a universal means of developing your own solutions (a “meta skill” for any situation).

That’s what you learn by practicing the 4-step Improvement Kata pattern.

When conditions are complex and dynamic, scientific thinking may be the best

approach we currently have for navigating. Scientific thinking means knowing that

any idea should be tested. It means learning to compare what you think (theory)

with what actually happens (evidence), and to adjust based on what you discover

from the difference. It’s a pattern of thinking that makes us better at reaching difficult

goals through unpredictable territory.