top of page
  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

Coaching with the Kata Cycle

by Tilo Schwarz | Tips for the Kata Coach | Episode 12

This article discusses a method the Coach can use to evaluate the Improvers methodical approach.

Recap of the last episode:

Based on the three types of experiment, Denise has found a new trick. It helps her to understand what kind of step her Improvers should do in a specific situation from a systematic perspective. She calls this method 'the fortune tellers crystal ball.'

(Read Episode 11 for details -- new readers check footnotes below)


Episode #12

Denise walks over from her office to meet Mark for her first coaching cycle today. She is a little late, and as she gets closer to the storyboard, she can see Mark already waiting for her.

I am wasting his time, she thinks. As a Coach, I should always be there on time or actually a little beforehand. She decides to write that down in her 'personal management handbook’ after returning to her office. She greets Mark, and they start their coaching cycle.

The first three phases go along smoothly. Today Mark intends to focus on a new obstacle. The team-members frequently struggle when plugging in one of the cables on the controller board of the new pump.

Denise asks, "What is, therefore, your next step“? "I think the cable is simply too short. I will talk to Rosalyn from purchasing to find out if we can get a longer cable from the supplier.

Pause for a moment and consider: What was your first thought about Marks answer?

We are jumping to conclusions, Denise thinks. She thinks of her trick with 'the fortune tellers crystal ball' and uses it to check the situation. Which type of experiment should we do right now, she asks herself. Type two, I guess. We have an obstacle, but the root cause is unknown. What type of experiment is Marc proposing? He is on the way to implement a change. So that’s experiment type three. I could let him run with it. However, that would be more of a trial and error approach, and also, it’s too risky to change the length of the cable right away. There might be a technical reason why the cable is as it is. I guess I have to stop Marc from conducting this step.

Pause for a moment and consider: What would you do as a coach now?

Denise asks Mark, "why do you think the cable is too short“? "Because this is our newest model of the HX100 pump and production just started three weeks ago. I suppose engineering just designed the cable too short which has happened before. So I’ll just talk with Rosalyn about asking the supplier to produce the cable 3 inches longer. No point bothering our colleagues from engineering with this."

Pause for a moment and consider: How would you react as a coach now?

"I think we are jumping to conclusions here. How can we investigate more deeply first?“ Denise bursts out. "If you say so I could ask engineering why they designed the cable so short and whether we could make it longer," is Marks curt response. "But this really is an unnecessary step. The short cable is simply a design fault.“ Denise realizes she has taken away his initiative, which is demotivating Mark. However, it’s too late. As a next step, they agree on Mark talking to Joyce from engineering to find out if there is any problem with making the cable longer.

On the way to her next coaching cycle with Joe, Denise continues to think about her conversation with Mark. That definitely went wrong today. What did I miss? What could I have done differently? Maybe I missed Marks threshold of knowledge and asked the wrong question?


Workout for the Coach: Have a look at Denise and Mark’s conversation again. What do you think went wrong? What would you have done differently in Denise’s situation? You might want to write down your observations and idea


After her coaching cycles and the morning meeting with the other department managers and David, their boss, Denise returns to her desk. She sits down and starts to recap and write down the conversation from the coaching cycle with Mark this morning sentence by sentence. Suddenly she stops. What did Mark say? “I think the cable is simply too short."

"I think," that is where his threshold of knowledge was. So what did I ask in return, Denise tries to remember? "Why do you think so“? That made him defend his thinking and strengthened his assumption, she realizes. However, what could I have done differently?

Denise remembers her old trick 'stand on red, walk on green’ (check Episode 2 for details). At the threshold of knowledge, we shouldn’t move forward but do the next step to find out. Yet, what would have been a logical next step, a step following a more scientific approach rather than using trial and error? And to find out what exactly?

Denise takes a look at the poster with the four steps of the Improvement Kata she has put up in her office, but it doesn’t seem to help. We are in element four, experimenting towards the next Target Condition, she thinks. However, what are the correct steps when experimenting, Denise asks herself. She thinks about PDCA or PDSA (Plan Do Study Act) as she likes to call it. Well, we should plan the next step to find out, then conduct it. But which step? I need a more detailed picture for the Improvement Kata approach, Denise realizes. She pulls out the notebook she calls her 'personal management handbook’ and starts drawing.

Denise considers which steps occur in detail when they repeatedly apply element 4 of the Improvement Kata, which is about conducting experiments to get closer to the next Target Condition.

She quickly draws ‚Understanding Direction‘ at the top right of her page, a circle for the Initial Condition on the bottom left, another circle for the ‚next Target Condition’ in the middle. With each step we get a new actual condition, Denise thinks and draws another circle on her page.

Then we have to find obstacles and choose one to address; she continues her thought. This is when we have to dig deeper on the one obstacle to understand the root cause. She writes ‚1 obstacle’ and ‚root cause‘ a little bit further down the page.

Once the actual cause is clear, we can formulate a hypothesis as to how exactly the process has to proceed to eliminate the cause. Based on this, we usually consider how the hypothesis can be tested experimentally in the next step.

Denise writes down ‚plan next step‘. Maybe it should be ‚plan next step and expectation‘ she continues to ponder. That might be an excellent way to distinguish if somebody was genuinely proposing an experiment based on a hypothesis or just making an assumption and is going for trial and error. Denise adds this to her drawing.

Then, of course, we conduct the experiment. Denise adds ‚conduct experiment‘ to her drawing, which looks like a half circle now. Then we can come up again with the result of the experiment. She writes ‚result‘ on her paper.

Actually, the result is not enough, Denise realizes. There should also be a finding. Something we have learned in relationship to our expectation and a conclusion from our experiment. This is why the coaching question was "what did you LEARN from taking your last step“. Also, this was why she was often unsatisfied when her Improvers, Mark and Joe, answered "it worked," Denise realizes.

With each experiment, we have a new actual condition; she continues her thoughts and finishes her little sketch with an arrow towards 'actual condition' in the middle of the page. She looks at the drawing which has formed a full circle now.

Source: See Toyota Kata Memory Jogger page 23 for more details.

The Kata Cycle, Denise thinks. For the first time, she has a detailed picture of their approach when following the Improvement Kata. That's good for explaining the Improvement Kata to others, Denise thinks.

She looks more closely at the circle and notices that it might also be helpful to describe some typical patterns of behavior. Often Mark and Joe cut across the circle. From from 12 o'clock „Actual Condition“ to 6 o’clock „Conduct Experiment“. That was the "just do it" approach goes through her mind. Immediately initiate a measure, focus on fire fighting, the more, the better, instead of investigating more deeply about the actual condition and the obstacles first.

Then she notices the next pattern. Having a next step in mind right from the start without precisely describing the obstacle or understanding the root cause. That is the "jumping to conclusions" approach, Denise thinks.

Then a third pattern comes to her mind. Presenting just the result of step, i.e it either worked or it didn’t work, without a finding or learning. „Just try some more," was the mindset she often realized, without taking time for a conclusion and really learning step by step.

The Kata Cycle might be an excellent navigation tool for the coach, she realizes. If she kept the Kata Cycle in mind during her coaching sessions, she could easily recognize if one of her improvers did not follow the Improvement Kata.

However, how would that have helped in her coaching cycle with Mark this morning, Denise asks herself?

Next week: Read how Denise makes use of the Kata Cycle and how Mark gets stuck after talking to Joyce from engineering about the short cable.

If you like this post, forward it to a friend or colleague right now because they will appreciate getting helpful tips from you.



For new readers: Every week, I share hands-on tips for coaching with the Coaching Kata. This episode is #12 in a series of articles about Denise, who has taken on her first management position as a department manager at PowerPump Inc. Denise intends to develop her team through coaching. Read Episode 1 to get into the story.

If you haven't done it yet: Sign up for my weekly newsletter with coaching tips.


bottom of page