Level up with Toyota Kata

Having experienced Scrum in various organisations over the years, I have seen a range of common trends when it comes to retrospectives and the ability to be ambitious in the outcome:

  • Teams are generally good at finding problems and solutions
  • Teams are good at facilitating interesting retrospectives
  • Teams are not good at describing the benefits of agreed actions
  • Teams are not good at following up on actions

In my experience the issues originate from how many teams interpret Scrum and agility: They live sprint-by-sprint. Which is great when talking about the product, but not desireable when it comes to team processes. Teams should experiment on short term to improve on long term.

One solution is to ramp up and add Toyota Kata to the toolbox. Toyota Kata is a tool for making structured process improvement. I have worked with a derivate of the framework initially described by Mike Rother in his book on the topic.

There are two main ingredients which deserve to be hilighted:

  1. Challenge
  2. Coaching Kata

A challenge is a problem area which you do not know the solution to when starting. It is something that has a measureable benefit (lagging indicator) and a set of measureable process improvements (leading indicators). In addition it must be relevant to both the team and the customers.

The Coaching Kata is a periodic event where progress on the challenge is discussed using five simple questions:

  1. What is the target condition?
  2. What is the current condition?
  3. What obstacles do you think are preventing you from reaching the target condition? And which are you solving now?
  4. What is your next step?
  5. How quickly can we go and see what we have learned from taking that step?

In the setting I have worked in, the Coaching Kata is facilitated by the manager who interviews the Scrum Master. The Scrum Master speakes on behalf of the team and makes sure to keep the team engaged between the Coaching Kata sessions.

Taking a step back I have observed that the teams have been able to improve their agility and work closer as high performing teams. However, beware that Toyota Kata is not a silver bullet. None of the issues addressed would have been impossible without the addition to Scrum; they just got more focus and attention in the new setting.

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