Mike Rother, the author of Toyota Kata on Toyota’s implementation and improvement methodology. This is the book which made me understand how the PDCA of Deming connects with the Agile/Scrum techniques and how in the end this is the productivity answer to Drucker’s knowledge worker’s productivity challenge.
In general, one can say that what is given to employees at Toyota is not solutions but an effective way of developing solutions. At many other companies, it’s the other way around. We decide via a return-on-investment calculation whether to pursue a goal, and make a plan for how we believe we will reach it. The plan lays out steps, and responsibility for those steps is assigned to individuals. People concentrate on the steps assigned to them.
But when we face a challenge, large or small, this approach is a dead end, because it involves deciding and planning based on existing knowledge. How can we know at the beginning what the steps will be that will best bring us to the desired destination? How can we predefine solutions when we do not know what we will encounter after the first few steps are taken? And if that’s true, how can we calculate in advance what the costs will be? Yet we do have time and budget constraints. So there is a paradox, and the improvement kata is designed to deal with that.
To cope with this dilemma and to mobilize the ingenuity of its employees, Toyota teaches an iterative approach. Although Toyota does plan in detail, the plan is seen more as a hypothesis than a decree. Toyota assumes that the path to a goal is largely in the dark, and that there are several as-yet-unknown ways to achieve the goal. Imagine you are at the beginning of a path holding a flashlight, but the light only illuminates part of the trail. When you take a step forward, you may spot things—an obstacle or an idea for a solution—that were not apparent back when you were calculating and planning. Toyota uses what it learns from those discoveries to take steps, if necessary, other than those listed in the plan to reach the goal in a creative manner within the quality, cost, and time parameters.