How it works

As shown in Figure O below, the Starter Kata has two main routines, known respectively as the Improvement Kata and the Coaching Kata.

The Improvement Kata provides coalitions and pods with a simple and repeatable way to achieve uncertain outcomes using a process that emphasizes short cycles, continuous improvement and scientific thinking.

The Coaching Kata is used to teach coalitions and pods how to apply the Improvement Kata, as well as guide them through their experiments by asking the same five questions at the start of an experiment.

Note: We will explore the five questions in more detail later.

As shown above, the Improvement Kata and the Coaching Kata are used together to help teams work through a two-phase process that includes the following four steps.

Step I: Understand the direction

The first step in the Improvement Kata requires coalitions, pods and coaches to gain a shared understanding of the organizational direction and key challenges at hand.

Generally, this can be accomplished by reviewing the following:

  • The executive vision

  • The business strategy and Lean Value Tree

  • The transformational future state

Once understood, coalitions and pods can then work with IWE coaches to produce two artifacts. The first artifact is the team vision, which ideally incorporates elements of the broader organizational vision, strategy and future state, broken down to roughly three to five outcomes.

The second artifact is the “challenge” which represents a four- to eight-week “step” toward the vision. It’s important to highlight that in this context, a “step” represents part of the future state that you currently lack the capability to reach at the present time. We emphasize here that challenges are not problems, but are aspirational goals that begin by asking a simple question: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could...?” This distinction might seem subtle in some respects, but studies show that humans prefer to work on goals rather than problems. To better understand the difference, it may be helpful to refer to Principle Six in this book.

Step II: Grasp the current condition

The next step in the Improvement Kata is Grasp the Current Condition. This step involves understanding the current state of the challenge through both objective and quantitative study. It’s not enough at this stage to simply define the current state using general observation or assumptions. Instead, this step requires both process analysis and gathering of quantifying data at organizational and value stream levels.

This is the only way to know what’s really going on. Through process analysis, you’ll be able to gain a better understanding of how processes and people inter-operate as well as baseline the current rate of performance, which can then be used to track progress as you move one “step” toward the target condition.

Step III: Establish the next target condition

As mentioned above, the next step in the Starter Kata is to establish the next target condition. This step is intended to describe (in measurable detail) how you intend to move one “step” forward.

On this point, establishing the next target condition does not mean detailing how you will do it. That can only be determined through experimentation. Instead, the goal of establishing the target condition is simply to describe what the target condition might look like at a near-future date.

Without a target condition, many teams will engage in unproductive, unvalidated and vague solutioning debates rather than more structured discussions centered on validating assumptions.

One of the most effective ways for coalitions and pods to establish a target condition is to follow the “when, what, how” approach. In this case, when represents the “achieve-by date”, what represents a “measurable improvement metric” and how represents “the new operating pattern” (i.e. the future state). Once the target condition has been established, coalitions and pods can use an Improvement Board like the one shown in Figure P below to help them visualize the work in process and track measurable improvement metrics from the current to target condition.

The Improvement Board is not only a visualization tool. It will also provide the focal point for daily coaching activities (the Coaching Kata), which we will explore in more detail in the next section.

Step IV: Experiment toward the target condition

The last step in the Starter Kata requires teams to experiment toward the target condition in “steps”. As mentioned earlier, the path to the outcome is uncertain, and because our own understanding may be currently limited, it’s important that we stay focused on experimenting in small steps.

Through these small steps, not only will the outcomes become less uncertain, but our own knowledge will also increase and enable us to think rationally about what the next step might be.

Step four is fundamentally a process of following the scientific method, starting with a hypothesis and then testing that hypothesis objectively against information gathered to routinely compare the current and target conditions.

To do this, many teams use the well-known Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle which we’ve summarized in Table VII below.

As teams move through the PDCA cycle, they use the Improvement Board shown in Figure P to keep track of their overall progress as well as to guide their daily Coaching Kata discussions.

During the daily coaching discussions, and at the beginning of each experimentation cycle, coaches will team the same five questions, which we’ve summarized below.

The Five Coaching Kata Questions

  1. What is the target condition?

  2. What is the actual, current condition?

  3. What obstacles do you think are preventing you from reaching the target condition, and which one are you addressing now?

  4. What is your next step?

  5. How quickly can we go and see what we have learned from taking that step?

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