What’s Your Kata?

This article is written by Greg Balfany, Health Systems Engineering, Administration for Memorial Hermann Memorial City in Houston, TX. Greg was an attendee at the annual Kata Summit in February 2020 and will share some of his next steps of learning and experimentation. Below is the first installment.

Miriam Webster defines kata as “a set combination of positions and movements (as in karate) performed as an exercise.” Mike Rother teaches this has application in the world of process improvement and defines it as “a way of doing,” or “routines,” that guide us in our pursuit of continuously improving. Do you know your Kata? Do you know your “way of doing” improvement? Do you know the improvement “routines” that exist in your organization? At Memorial Hermann, it is constantly evolving, and not very routine. We are trying to change that.

Planting Kata Seeds

I joined MHMC in 2018 to build a new Health Systems Engineering program. When discussing Kata as “a way” to improve the cadence of the organization’s improvement work, administration was curious, but apprehensive. Their first assignment for Health Systems Engineering was the implementation of a Lean Management System (LMS) to govern the improvement work. Like many healthcare organizations, MHMC has many skilled people doing improvement work. However, the improvement work has lacked alignment to the organization’s Strategic Improvement Priorities (SIP) – The Challenges. The rigors of “how improvement work is done” would have to wait.

When I ponder the question “What’s Your Kata,” I realize it is different today from last year. Through our Lean Management System, we have been planting seeds that are now growing us towards the Kata Improvement and Kata Coaching processes. In 2019, we implemented three distinct “routines” for discussing progress on our 16 Strategic Improvement Priorities (SIP). During each SIP update, improvement practitioners use their Strategic Improvement Board (see picture above) and deliberately practice the habit of discussing a) the last actionable steps taken (with what they learned) and b) the next actionable steps they have planned (with what they expect). An “Action Board Presentation” card facilitates the “deliberate practice” of these “routine” reports (see left).

The Lean Management System at MHMC has become the skeletal structure within which performance improvement is beginning to take hold. For this skeleton to become a strong body, the projects it is fed need structure, balance, and a recurring cadence that nurtures improvement ideas every day. Our goal is to make continuous improvement a part of our everyday work. Our CEO, Paul O’Sullivan, often asks, “What are your obstacles” and “how can we help?”

KATA ONLINE CERTIFICATION: Lean Frontiers offers an online, self-pace Toyota Kata Knowledge Certification made up of video lessons with a certifying quiz. Learn more

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