A small group of us are embarking on a project to coach process owners for key processes owned and managed by our department. We plan to use the Improvement Kata as our standard for coaching. Before we get started, I thought I would benefit from a review of Mike Rother’s Improvement Kata Handbook. In a recent meeting with one of my coaches/mentors, he told me that he routinely writes a “book report” every time he reads a new book. In the spirit of working out loud, I decided that I will not only take notes as I read through the materials, I will also share my thoughts with others.
In the preface Mike Rother points out “All managers are teachers, whether consciously or not. With their everyday words and actions managers teach their people a mindset and approach, which determines the organization’s capability.” So as I get ready to coach, I need to really think about the behaviors I’m modeling. One thing I need to really pay attention to is whether my actions are consistent with what I’m telling people.
“The IMPROVEMENT KATA is a teachable process for using our brains more effectively when pursuing goals in complex systems.” There are 2 key components to the Improvement Kata – a systematic approach with structured practice routines. It is this pattern of practice that not only helps someone to learn but also operationalize this approach.
The Coaching Kata provides a standard routine to develop effective coaching techniques. The coach has to have a thorough knowledge of the Improvement Kata before she can be an effective coach. Hence the reason why I’m going back to the beginning and embarking on a refresher course on the Improvement Kata.
Big word for the day – metacognition – thinking about how you think. Much of what we do is habitual. When you repeat a behavior multiple times, you can repeat that behavior without much, if any conscious thought. You can change old habits or even develop new ones. It just takes time and effort.
In organizations managers/leaders can influence culture in two very different ways. The can unconsciously/automatically teach and reinforce the prevailing culture. On the other hand, managers/leaders can assume the role of coach and deliberately teach a way of thinking and acting. The Improvement Kata is one way to do this.
Cognitive bias – “a tendency to draw incorrect conclusions in certain circumstances based on cognitive factors rather than evidence.” We all have a tendency to fill in the blanks based on prior experience. As an example when we see we immediately see “jumping to conclusions”, when what is actually there is
The key to effective process improvement is to distinguish between what we know and what we think we know. In coaching it’s important to listen to what people say. There is a difference between “my data shows” and “I think X”.
“It’s not practice makes perfect, it’s correct practice makes perfect.” One reason for having a coach is to ensure you don’t learn bad technique or bad habits. I enjoy yoga and find that I do much better when I go to class rather than practicing on my own. I am still at the stage where having someone help me attain the correct pose can make all the difference in the world.
Steps of the Improvement Kata*:
*Illustration by Bill Costantino
Step 1: The direction or breakthrough challenge is set at the organizational level. This is the “true north” you are striving for in your continuous improvement projects. Your ultimate goal should be on delivering to meet or exceed customer expectations.
Step 2: Before embarking on any process improvement, you first need to understand your current condition. This is based on data. This helps you understand the gap between your starting point and your ultimate goal.
Step 3: Set a goal that you can achieve within the next few weeks. Let’s say your process cycle time averages 2 weeks but your customers want it to take 2 days. Based on this your next target condition could be to find a way to reduce that cycle time by 1 day.
Step 4: This is the experimentation phase where you use the PDCA (plan, do, check, act) process to try different approaches and learn what works and what doesn’t. Along the way you adjust your approach as you learn.
Step 5: This isn’t in the Kata handbook but I’m adding it for my own sake. Once you reach your next target condition, the process starts over at step 2. Your direction will remain the same but your current condition has changed.