Kata is a Japanese word for “form” widely used in martial arts to teach students a set of movements to learn a new skill. Last year, I attended the Agile and Scum 2020 Online Conference and the session that had the deepest impact for me was the one on Toyota Kata delivered by Oscar Roche. Oscar did a brilliant job describing this framework which is widely used for practicing scientific thinking. In this blog post, I briefly describe the Toyota Kata framework to provide some context and share an experiment on how I helped an agile team apply Toyota Kata to improve their daily standup.
Toyota Kata is a set of routines that shift your mindset and behaviour from a natural tendency to jump to conclusions (based on your own bias) to a more scientific way of thinking and acting. The framework is based on the research work done by Mike Rother and published in his book Toyota Kata.
Scientific Thinking is a mental framework for approaching goals, obstacles, and issues in a systematic, scientific way. It is a continuous comparison of what we predict will happen next (hypothesis), observing what happens (reality), and adjusting our understanding and actions based on what we learn from the variance. Mike researched the Lean practices behind Toyota’s success and identified the “less visible stuff” – systematic, scientific way of thinking and managers as teachers of the way. He had 2 research questions:
- What are the unseen managerial routines and thinking that lie behind Toyota’s success with continuous improvement?
- How can other companies develop similar routines and thinking in their organizations?
In his book Toyota Kata, Mike distills his research findings into 2 Katas.
Improvement Kata – 4 step routine that can help you practice scientific thinking.
- Get the direction or challenge
- Grasp the current condition
- Establish your next target condition
- Conduct experiments to get there
Coaching Kata – managers as teachers of the scientific way of thinking who can help you identify.
- What is the target condition?
- What is the current condition?
- What obstacles are impeding us from reaching our target condition?
- What is your next step?
Experiment – Apply Improvement Kata to improve Daily Standup
Last month I ran an experiment with my agile team to use the Improvement Kata to help improve the effectiveness of the Daily standup meeting. In the online meeting, I described the 4 steps mentioned above and the team collaboratively populated the Improvement Kata template I created on Confluence.
Complete the following steps in the order mentioned…
|#1 – Current state/ problem(s)||#3 – Next target condition/ milestone|
||Reduce the # post scrum items to only those that need attention of entire team
Deadline – Jan 29, 2021
|#2 – Ideal state/ define awesome||#4 – Identify experiments/ action items|
||Keep a record of post scrum items and categorize them as follows…
After Jan 29th, in the subsequent retrospective, the team inspected the improvements in the daily standup. Data collected over the last few weeks was analyzed and it was found that the post scrum items were now mainly team announcements or items that triggered from the stand up. Items that could be discussed before and after the standup were no longer discussed in the post scrum. Due to the increased awareness within the team, the developers started discussing issues with each other more often which increased collaboration among team members. They also started flagging risk/issues on the internal messaging tool rather than wait for the next standup. The focus on this specific target condition significantly improved the post scrums and the meetings became more efficient.
After successfully meeting the first target condition, the team is planning to inspect the Improvement Kata and pick up next item under Ideal State. This iterative inspection and adaption based on scientific thinking will help the team get closer to the “ideal state” of how they want their standups to be. Similarly, the plan is to use the Toyota Kata framework for exploring improvements in other areas as well and the next candidate I can already see is to “shift left with test automation”.
I encourage other Scrum Masters, managers, leaders to try using the Toyota Kata framework at your work and share your experiences.
Wish you all the very best!