Toyota Kata – 4 Lessons Learned from the President of New Hampshire Industries

This article is written by John Batten of New Hampshire Industries. Join John for a free webinar titled, “Toyota Kata – 4 Lessons Learned from the President of New Hampshire Industries,” Wed, May 6, 2020 1-1:30 PM EDT. Register today, space limited.

I worked in quality and manufacturing for much of my career and always seemed to hit roadblocks that seemed like lack of support from top management when trying to implement improvements. I thought … “if I ran the company things would be different”!

That opportunity presented itself 3 years ago when I took over as President. I was certain I would be successful in transforming the company through lean and quality management principles.

What I learned was that changing a whole culture is harder than it looked, and I was as capable of making mistakes as anyone else. Here are the biggest lessons. 

Lesson # 1 – Authority does not compel an organization to improve/change

After taking over I went forward with the approach that now that we had top management support, nothing could stop us. I knew the path and just needed to get others on it. These preconceptions were misconceptions and naïve. When I provided guidance, people heard mandates. There was no personal drive as they were only going to go through the motions. I began to understand that I had to empower the people, put them in charge of the process. I had to re-think the plan and probably the timeline.

Lesson # 2 – Know what makes a good challenge

We started with the approach that our challenge would be based on achieving an improvement of our planned cycle time, with improved quality and operator satisfaction. This was a balanced challenge and one that seemed to give the team motivation to improve things in a way that not just one component was focused on. The operator always had to report that their current condition was so far from the challenge that they felt disheartened each day. There was no visible path.  I had to rethink the challenge that was set to make sure that it seemed achievable for them.

Lesson # 3 – Grasping the current condition is not easy

I started the team out working on process analysis from The Toyota Kata Practice Guide by Mike Rother. This is a very prescribed method for collecting process details and informing the learners about their process from a data perspective. They carried this process out diligently but at the end did not really understand what it meant in terms of their Improvement Kata board.  It was clear that an obstacle to even starting their application of the pattern needed to be preceded by the ability to understand data regarding their processes.

A good part of this was the missed opportunity by the coaches (including me) in driving ‘Scientific Thinking’.  The learners were using the collected data to support what they thought the issues were which is a hindrance in applying the Improvement Kata Pattern.  The coach, who was focused so intently on the 5 questions did not catch this in time and missed the opportunity to teach the learner to follow the data, not assumptions. Another step back in the plan.

Lesson # 4 – Change cannot always happen at the leaders’ pace, it takes perseverance

I am trying to change the culture and the practices of the organization at the same time. The capacity of the team for handling that change is limited by each person’s background they bring with them. The number of new concepts I was introducing through not only Toyota Kata but also 6S, Value Stream Mapping and other lean principles was overwhelming them. It slowed the pace of change down because they felt like they were drowning. 

A great deal of this was because as the leader, I did not develop the coaches as well as I should have in order to make sure they led the learners away from an approach that focused on the pattern and not the “Tools”.  In teaching them the lean principles of waste reduction, through tools like 6S and Value Stream Mapping I actually did them a disservice. Had I taught them to apply the Coaching Kata to drive ‘Scientific Thinking’ they would have worked their way to the appropriate solution to overcome their own obstacles. My role needs to be gradually stepping on the accelerator of a car to eventually get them to the desired speed of change. With the coaches and learners each equipped with a “way of thinking” that help the appropriate solutions be developed for the obstacles “they” identify, the more likely change will happen closer to my desired pace.   

Our lean journey is just beginning as we are only just over a year in. I have heard it said that Lean is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. My approach seemed to me like a marathon approach, but to my team it seemed like a full out sprint! When I stop long enough to look, we have made significant improvements and the team is growing and the culture is shifting. I need to keep challenging the team by pressing gradually harder on that accelerator and proportionally increase my support as I press!


FREE WEBINAR: “Toyota Kata – 4 Lessons Learned from the President of New Hampshire Industries,” Wed, May 6, 2020 1-1:30 PM EDT. Register today, space limited.

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