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Book Review: Toyota Kata

Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results by Mike Rother is a very interesting book. What I find particularly interesting is the view that an organization’s processes and practices are an outcome of people’s thinking and behavior. The traditional view is that you can control human behavior by defining the processes and then force people to follow them. There is another word for this, it’s called process discipline.

So, if processes are an outcome, then how do you influence people’s behavior? How do you accomplish the continuous improvements, adaptiveness, and superior performance? The answer is through katas. In Japan, a “kata” is a way of thinking and conducting oneself. The book describes two katas, an improvement kata and a coaching kata.

The key point is that if you want to understand Toyota and emulate its success, then these katas should be implemented, not the company’s processes or techniques. The competitive advantage of a company doesn’t lie in the processes themselves but in the ability of the company to understand the current situation and create fitting, smart solutions.

There is one area where I disagree with the author and it is in his view of self-organization. My view is that self-organization is an excellent way of putting our capability for improvement, resourcefulness, and creativity to use. The view held by the author might be valid in a manufacturing environment, but I don’t think it is valid in general. Also, I would like to stress, as the author does, that kata is a general concept applicable not only to manufacturing.

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By Jan Höglund

I share my reading, book reviews, and learning in my blog.

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