The Improvement Kata is a pattern for making improvements.  It’s based on practices used at Toyota, where they apply the scientific method via a deliberate practice pattern or (in Japanese) a Kata.

The Improvement Kata treats each change as an experiment.  Your hypothesis is that doing X will make things better.  Try it and see if that’s true!  Once you think of your change as an experiment, you can see that:

  • A series of small experiments is better than one big one.  There’s less risk if it doesn’t work.
  • It’s important to consciously consider what you have learned from each experiment and how that affects your ideas of what to do next.
  • Some of the experiments change what management does, so managers need to stay continually involved.

The Improvement Kata is fundamentally Agile, because it takes one small step at a time rather than planning a huge change project up-front.  Learnings from each step inform the next step, creating a fast feedback loop.

The Improvement Kata was originally written up for a manufacturing context.  Today, it’s being used in other areas as well, such as software development.  My colleagues and I have successfully applied the Improvement Kata pattern in software development., where we found it necessary to make some modifications to the pattern.  Read about our adventures in this paper: The Improvement Kata: Lean Meets Annual Planning.  You might also like Hakan Forss’ stories of the Improvement Kata (featuring Lego in every slide). For a thorough grasp of all the fundamentals, see Mike Rother’s Improvement Kata website.

If you’d like to hear more about the Improvement Kata in software, contact me.