Katacon Europe 2018

Many months ago I was approached by the European Katacon organizers to help setting up the 2018 conference. Katacon is about kata, the Toyota Kata revealed to the mass by Mike Rother in the book… Toyota Kata. It’s about patterns of thinking and behaviour to improve and solve problems.

I modestly offered my website, blogs and networks as sounding boards to the event, not able to do much more. Now time has come to advertise the coming event!

Katacon Europe 2018, where and when?

Amsterdam will be the location, more specifically B. Amsterdam, a creative work space bridging startups, creatives, and corporates. (http://b-buildingbusiness.com/amsterdam/)  located Johan Huizingalaan 763a, 1066 VH Amsterdam.

The date is April 18 & 19, 2018 with a preconference afternoon and a Kata geek meeting for early comers to network.

The program is detailed here: http://www.katacon2018.eu/day1.php

What’s offered to participants?

If you go through the program, you’ll see that DAY ONE, besides welcoming and opening speech has 4 mini keynotes on Improvement Kata, before participants spread into study visits or workshops of their choice. Everybody meets again for the networking diner at 19:00 (7 pm).

DAY TWO starts with plenary sessions: reflection from day one, Finding new ways to learn and a testimony about Toyota senseis’ mentoring and comparing Kata with a professional sports coach. By 11:00 it will be time to breakout into various sessions to select (chose twice 1 in 5)  and plenary sessions will resume from 15:30-17:00.

Registration: http://www.katacon2018.eu/registration.php

I hope you’ll find a lot of value and have fun!

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

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You are entering unclear territory

This post is inspired by some pictures* in Mike Rother’s book “Toyota Kata”, very relevant in our actual changing times and complex situations. I really like the figures that remind that the journey towards a goal requires entering unclear territory at some point.

Unclear territory

Adapted from “Toyota Kata”, Mike Rother

Experience from the military tells that no plan, regardless how carefully it was planned, will survive contact with the enemy.

No plan survives contact with the enemy.
Helmuth von Moltke

What this means is that unknown facts, unexpected events and dynamic complex interrelated relationships will interfere with the plan based on partial knowledge, biased perception and simplified hypotheses.

Plans are important because they allow to explore hypotheses and be prepared accordingly but most plans are useless as reality often unfolds differently as expected.

This is why, when starting a journey toward a significant change or a Lean transformation for example, the plan will probably last only for the few first steps, but barely further. Once the journey started, unexpected circumstances will reveal themselves and require adjustment.

This is similar to exploring a dark room with a flashlight**. Only a part of the room is visible and every move is done accordingly to visibility and noticed obstacles. As one moves forward the line of sight extends and the vision clears further one step at a time. New obstacles appear, requiring new adjustment, and so on. The path across the dark room is probably not straight, but must get past several obstacles.

The same happens while hiking. The goal is set, the map shows the terrain and the compass helps for the bearing. Yet the map may show the canyon, the river and the forest, but none of the boulders, the fallen trees across the path neither the recently flooded areas. Those obstacles will appear once the hikers come close. In this case too, the hikers have to adjust to circumstances and find alternate routes to reach their goal. The one they had in mind while planning the hike is no more relevant.

Leaders must be able to lead through unclear territories

Unclear territories of all sorts are more and more common. Even what we believed familiar ground can be disrupted overnight. Everything is going “VUCA”, meaning being increasingly Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. More decisions must be taken, more frequently and often with incomplete data and only partial understanding of the situation.

Among all decisions, some – and hopefully few – will show unadapted, requiring new adjustments. Wandering in unclear territories is a new fate. Being able to make quick and good decisions in unclear territories is a necessary aptitude for aspiring leaders.

What are good decisions? Those enabling the organization to achieve its goal despite the obstacles and unexpected difficulties, those solving the problems to clear the way towards the goal or choosing alternate routes to get closer to the goal.
Therefore, having a clear Goal onto which aligning actions, projects and initiatives when going through unclear territory is mandatory.

Followers too must understand “unclear territories”

Unclear territory is not a concept for leaders only, the followers must understand it too. What does it mean? It means that once entering unclear territories:

  • leaders (managers, people in charge…) may get surprised by unexpected events and this does not make them bad leaders
  • leaders, managers, etc. don’t have all the answers to all difficulties and problems that arise along the journey
  • plans and projects sometimes have to be reoriented, which may look like poor management or a fantasy but isn’t
  • some invested efforts and actions must be abandoned due to new circumstances, it’s disappointing, but that’s life

One may wonder how to distinguish poor leadership from the necessities to adapt to new circumstances? I would suggest to prevent the question from arising by establishing a clear communication upfront, giving frequent and transparent updates and have everyone exploring the unclear territory by teamwork.

*Mike Rother “Toyota Kata: Managing People For Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Results”, McGraw-Hill Professional, 2010. Pictures mentioned are page 8; 120; 124; 133; 163

**Flashlight metaphor, page 133

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What coaching means to me – part one

In business we hear “coaching” a lot, maybe too often. While passing over knowledge and experience or helping people to improve a practice is a good thing, the way I see coaching done is far from delivering this kind of value.

The latest case is with a large corporation having launched a Lean program – even it isn’t called Lean nor program – with a framework of principles and chosen tools, and “coaching” as a way to cascade it.

The coaching is much inspired by Mike Rother’s Toyota Kata and looks good on paper. The limitations and flaws appeared when I witnessed it being done.

The coaching starts from the top of the hierarchical pyramid and is supposed to be cascaded down by each layer to the next subordinate one.

The “master coaches” come from a central Lean Promotion Office, young brilliant people familiar with the theory and trained to support the corporate program. Very few have any practical experience with applying Lean methods, tools or techniques.

These coaches will set appointments with managers and train and coach those to gemba-walk and carry out a much scripted routine. The coaching is merely explaining the procedure or script, give some side explanations about purpose and consistency within the corporate program and most of all, stand behind the coachee with a kind of checklist and make sure the procedure is accurately followed.

Obviously what matters to these coaches is the compliance to the scripted routine. If the gemba-walker is unable to notice problems and improvement points it is unimportant as long as the routine is carried out correctly. I assume the coaches would not be able to spot the problems and improvement points neither, as so many problems are left unattended even after series of scripted gemba walks.

Once these routines are consistently carried out in appropriate manner, the coachee is qualified to coach his/her subordinates in a similar way.

The cascading coaching is planned over the year and it will take about that time to get a department through the whole cascading process.

Unlike Mike Rother’s recommendations, these coachings are not everyday practice, but scheduled events. As you can guess, the middle management considers it as additional chore, and goes through it dragging feet just to be compliant and avoid trouble.

>Read part two

You may also like: You don’t give me answers, you ask questions

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Downsides of kaizen events

In a previous post I explained what kaizen events are and ended it with some reservations. In this one I’ll explain why. I am no opponent to kaizen events, I simply point out the deviations I have witnessed.

>Lisez-moi en français

kaizen events are quick actions performed in a very limited time, limited perimeter and focused targets. To achieve it, the group has to comply with the standard format.

Participants are rushing from one assigned task to the next, like remote-controlled by the moderator. There is little time and opportunity for participants to really understand, reflect and learn.

Therefore Kaizen benefits to managers solving problems in their area and moderators or kaizen office members for new scores but seldom benefits participants nor even the company, in the long run.

Why company seldom benefits from kaizen events?

First because the kaizen event is no good learning organization, as participants do not develop their own abilities to see problems and improvement potentials, design and carry out experiments to solve issues.

Kaizen event-driven activities keep depending on few champions to lead them.

No planned session means no improvement. People are not trained to improve by themselves nor entitled to do it outside the events.

Kaizen activities in general are welcome in a slowdown to keep paid people busy, but when business returns to normal, kaizen returns to low priority. Continuous improvement is understood as periodic improvement and performance is leaping from one level to the next according to events.

Kaizen events are focused to local problems. These local problems may be solved locally at the expense of some other area or process.
They lead to local optimizations which in sum cannot be the optimum for the whole system/company.

Put differently, kaizen events serve cherry picking independent problem solving, not always aligned with the Goal or really contributing to the organization’s Purpose.

In “Toyota Kata”, Mike Rother explains: “improvement workshop does not require any particular managerial approach. (../..) This may explain some of the popularity of workshops“. Further: “Since the workshop team moves on or is disbanded after a workshop ends, we have to expect that entropy will naturally begin eroding the gains that have been made.

The fast pace of kaizen events is used to overcome resistance to change, yet systematically rushing to implement solutions is a mere top-down approach.

So-called participation is only about giving a hand, seldom the opportunity to truly participate, e.g. Express, analyze, understand, experiment, build, argue, buy-in, carry-out, and learn.

Some organization develop lean champions only and depend on them for any lean-kaizen activity. When those champions have enough experience and track record of achievements, they’ll sell themselves to another company, leaving the previous one without real legacy.

Who’s to blame then?

Related: What is Kaikaku?

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How lean can help shaping the future? Introduction

Lean, no doubt, is a powerful proven business management system with long track record of success stories (and probably as many failed attempts).

In 60 years, Lean made it slowly from Lean Manufacturing to Lean Thinking and Lean Management, from small improvement experiments in industrial workshops to worldwide shared Body of Knowledge.

Despite all the experience gathered and shared, the numerous good books, papers, testimonies or seminars, the application of Lean concepts is still as it was in its early days. Most of those starting Lean initiatives seek cost savings and/or performance improvement and still consider Lean as a well-furnished toolbox. They try to fix broken and poorly designed processes, bailing water faster rather than fixing the leaks.


Author Chris HOHMANN

Sadly, Lean seldom made it into management age, but keep stuck in the tool age as Jim Womack would put it, being “used” as it was in its early days, or as Mike Rother expresses it: “Lean seems stuck in the 20th Century, for instance focused almost exclusively on efficiency, and that there is a 21st-Century Lean that encompasses a wider range of human endeavor.“

It seems to me that most organizations using Lean run backwards into their future – which is risky and suboptimal enough – and do not anticipate the disruptions that lay ahead.

Innovations in technologies, societal changes and stiffer regulations for example will lead us into a near future where past experience will be only a limited help.

I think about machines able to learn from their own experience, processes able to configure and adjust themselves dynamically to respond to customers’ demands, power plants going into safe mode long before human supervisors would notice any problems, far better sales forecasts, ever smaller production batches and new ways to manufacture, using 3D printing for example.

Factories of the future will have to blend into residential areas, because of lack of space or simply because employees long commuting time is huge waste of time and energy. These factories must be energy efficient, limit all their pollution (noise, fumes, scrap…) and may be mobile device-controlled by only a handful of highly skilled personnel, few workers sharing their job with collaborative robots (cobots).

Science fiction? Not at all, no more. Search the Web for terms like “smart factories” or “industry 4.0” to get a glimpse into the future.

This brings (at least) two questions about Lean:

  1. Will lean survive the fourth industrial revolution? a topic I discuss in >this post<
  2. How Lean can help shaping the future?

This post is an introduction to a prospective thinking about these topics


Feel free to share your thoughts and comments!

Four uses of an A3 report

When talking about A3 reports, one thinks about problem solving approach. While this Lean tool perfectly fits this purpose, there is more than just a structured and formal approach to problem solving in it.

Bandeau_CH3The four uses of an A3 report

When using A3 reports one soon notices it’s a great media for telling stories.

The content is generally condensed and summarized, yet people familiar with the content can easily develop the story with the help of this kind of ‘script’. Conversely, listeners can follow easily a well structured story backed-up by facts and figures.

The ability to structure and tell a compelling story straight-to-the-point is not that common, therefore A3 reports are great help.

Selling a solution to a problem

Story telling is a marketing exercise, and promoting a solution is trying to sell it to the audience, the stakeholders, the boss, etc. A3 reports are great tools for telling the story starting with a problem and hopefully ending with the its eradication. If the story is well-built, e.g. problem solving approach thorough and robust, the happy end is not only wishful thinking but likely to happen.


A problem can take some time to be solved, the reviews while the solving process – solution – is ongoing should be done with the help of A3 reports for the very same reasons as for selling the solution; they’re great support for story telling. This applies for project reviews or policy deployment (cascading objectives and turning them into actions with Hoshin Kanri).

Promoting, suggesting

Any idea or suggestion worth being promoted can be greatly told and advertised with an A3 report or a cascade of A3 reports. Well structured stories inspire confidence and prove the thorough preparation of its promoters. Brilliant ideas often get lost because of the inability of the promoters to sell them, to tell them in an interesting way or failing to inspire the required confidence in both the idea and the carrier(s).


A3 reports can be used to summarize and structure information that are to be displayed or passed to some audience. While audience engagement is not mandatory in this case, the simpler and logical the message, the better.

More about A3s

Difficult definition of Lean

Did you ever face the same difficulty explaining Lean to someone who knows nothing about it?

It’s a real dilemma between giving a short yet oversimplified definition or setting up a kind of improvised conference that may disconnect your audience before it got the minimum understanding about Lean, isn’t it?

Once familiar with Lean, the question sounds strange. When knowing the basics and the jargon, a very concise definition is enough to understand what is wrapped within.

When explaining to somebody new to Lean or ignorant about it, most choose an elevator pitch style definition in order to raise interest letting the details for a later opportunity.

There are also cases when people obviously misunderstood a definition of Lean, like these guys proud about “being Lean” because they initiated 5S, and stick to their belief, surprised that you come up with something different.

Elevator pitching

Short, concise and sharp definitions of Lean are favored first because when delivered in assertive tone, they give confidence to both the speaker and the listener. In most of the cases, these pitches are teasers, catch enough interest of the listener for him to offer a further opportunity to learn more.

Alas, these concise definitions are also very often oversimplifying and while being true may be misleading. One example is : “Lean is about eliminating waste”.

Of course Lean is fighting against waste, but not because it was its goal but because it was what the workers on shop floor could do by themselves in order to contribute providing more value to customers.

If the listener only understands Lean as fighting waste, he’ll may grow the ranks of those believing it being cost cutting or doing 5S and thus miss a lot of its other potentialities.

Another example of such kind of over simplified definitions is: “Lean is about speed (and Six Sigma is about quality)”. Again, yes it’s true, when a process is freed from its major wastes the speed of flow increases, but speeding up alone is not enough because you can speed up a totally needless process without any benefit for customers.

On the other hand, as soon as the definition turns into a long sentence or several sentences, there is a risk to confuse the listener with too much information and scare him about something that sounds complicated.

A delicate balance

In my post definition of Lean, Dan Jones and Jim Womack illustrate two different approaches while defining Lean: Dan Jones uses the professorial extensive definition, Jim Womack uses the elevator pitch style, but giving a bit more explanations right after pitching, as does Mike Rother in the >related post<.

Circumstances play a role when it comes to choose the definition. Dan Jones has the opportunity to explain extensively in a 6mn video obviously in his control, while Jim Womack and Mike Rother answer interviews where usually short and straight to the point answers are preferred.

Karen Martin, answering the question in Quality Progress February 2014 issue, goes for halfway: (Lean is) “a business management system consisting of principles, practices and tools and is primarily about developing people to achieve business results.” She adds “It is hard to summarize because of its multilayered effect and complexity without oversimplifying it.”

All of these definitions are correct and convergent for initiated yet different and maybe puzzling to newbies. I haven’t a unique definition of my own. As others, I tend to adapt to the audience and the time I feel reasonable under the circumstances. Nevertheless, I usually regret short definitions, feeling I owe more than this to Lean.

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Mike Rother’s definition of Lean

Defining Lean in a concise way is a challenge. Mike Rother’s definition as reported in february 2014 issue of Quality Progress goes like this:

Lean is the permanent struggle to flow value to one customer

This elevator pitch needs to be further explained. Mike Rother delivers some additional bullet points onto which I develop a bit further:

  • Permanent means on-going, never-ending. Lean is continuous improvement, as every improved situation can still be improved. Further improvements are revealed after looking again to the situation after a while or because some parameters have changed, situation evolved or technical evolutions allow new progress.
  • Struggle is the challenge to go through PDCA. It’s also about fighting inertia or falling back to old habits, finding energy to keep going on and fight against all the changes that affect negatively the processes we try so hard to improve.
  • to flow is not (just) provide. I understand this as more than a one shot, more than just the satisfaction of an expressed need, but a link between a constantly pleased customer and a dedicated supplier. Providing value can be done by timely dropping a shipment of awaited goods, meeting the requirements. Full stop. To flow value is care taking and providing what is needed or relevant next, continuously.

After reading this post, Mr Rother kindly contacted me to correct the quote in QP (the word ‘just‘ got lost) and explain the meaning behind to flow is not just provide:

In other words, it’s not just hold items in inventory or provide disparate points of service so you can (hopefully) provide what a customer wants, but rather to strive to flow a product/service to the customer when they want/need it. For instance, a customer seeking to buy a particular item, or handling the interaction points (purchase, check in, security, etc.) one goes through for air travel. That kind of flow ideal may not be completely reachable, but it gives us something to aim and strive for!

  • Value changes over time. Value is usually defined as “what customer is willing to pay for” and in most of the cases it’s a solution to his/her problems. Once the problem solved another will pop up or take the new priority in the problems list. That’s why value changes and that’s why the link with customers is to be kept. Lean is not selling solutions off the shelf.
  • to one customer, the part Mike Rother develops most: “at the end of your value stream is one customer. Toyota had a traditional saying: we make millions of cars but the customer buys only one“. Disappointing a customer is losing the opportunity to build loyalty. This customer order pulled the production, it is clearly defined, already sold, so this trusting customer cannot be disappointed and every order requires special care.

I am not sure to translate Mr Rother’s idea faithfully, so please consider it as my own understanding. Feel free to give your insights or comments.

Related: Dan Jones and Jim Womak definition of Lean

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