A kata typically refers to fundamental movements in Japanese martial arts, but can refer to any basic form, routine, or pattern of behavior. Recognizable patterns of behavior and clear expectations make it easy to recognize abnormalities (problems) and also serve as a basis of improvement, setting and attaining higher standards.

In lean management, kata refers to two linked behaviors: improvement kata and coaching kata.

Improvement kata is a repeating four-step routine by which an organization improves and adapts. It makes continuous improvement through the scientific problem-solving method of plan, do, check, act (PDCA) a daily habit. The four steps are:

  1. Determine a vision or direction
  2. Grasp the current condition
  3. Define the next target condition
  4. Move toward the target (the plan or “P” defined by the first three steps)  through quick, iterative PDCA cycles to uncover and remove obstacles.

Coaching kata is the repeating routine by which lean leaders and managers teach the improvement kata to everyone in the organization. The teacher or coach gives the learner procedural guidance – not solutions – that make the learner successful in overcoming obstacles. (Adapted from Rother, 2010, and Shook, 2008.)