Stay Calm and Practice Kata

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When In Crisis, Look To Kata

Has the stress of the COVID pandemic caused your business to lose focus? You’re not alone if it has. For small-to-medium manufacturers, the “new normal” is uncertain and the challenges are real. Some companies can’t get the materials that they need. Others are working to maintain physical distancing on crowded shop floors. At a time like this, isn’t lean manufacturing the least of your concerns? But maybe the solution is to replace worry with clarity – and to get lean with Kata.
Kata is a Japanese word that describes a structured mode of action or a pattern of behavior. It’s related to lean manufacturing because these behaviors can drive continuous improvement. During times of crisis, Kata is especially useful because it can help manufacturers to think critically while competitors simply react. Toyota Kata, a management book by Mike Rother, aims to make teachable the continual improvement process in the Toyota Production System. But where can you find someone to teach you?


Sarah Burlingame is a senior project manager for Train Develop Optimize (TDO), part of the New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership Center (NY MEP) and the MEP National Network. Across Central New York, Burlingame teaches kata to small and medium-sized manufacturers so that, as she explains in Quality Digest*, “they can apply additional lean manufacturing tools and techniques to solve business challenges.” This improvement kata has four steps.

  • Set the challenge
  • Grasp the current condition
  • Set the target condition
  • Experiment toward the target condition

“Practicing kata”, Burlingame writes, “is most effective when a coach is there to provide gentle guidance to a learner.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, many obstacles can cause manufacturing leaders to lose sight of the path to profitability. Instead of focusing on these obstacles, leaders need to keep the destination in sight. By seeking guidance from your local MEP center, your company can compete and win during these challenging times.
Are you a New York State manufacturer? Contact NY MEP to learn more about how we can help you.
*This syndicated article was written as part of the MEP National Network awareness campaign.


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