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Global Leader & Pioneer in Kaizen/Lean/Operational Excellence domain

From Masaaki Imai to Mike Rother

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by Vinod Grover

For years, students and followers of kaizen, TPS, WCM, Lean etc. have grappled with some questions:

What is the relationship between Kaizen & TPS?

Is Kaizen part of TPS? Is TPS the outcome of kaizen in practice? Do kaizen & TPS/ Lean/ WCM imply the same thing? Toyota is history’s most researched, written about & copied company. Yet, why is it that till date, by far, there is but one Toyota? Why is it that no other company has even come close to matching?

Toyota’s success over a sustained period of time (notwithstanding some recent year setbacks)?When I sat down to hear Mike Rother’s keynote in November, 2011 during the AME Conference in Dallas, I knew of his books. What followed was his version of a (highly plausible) answer to those questions, and prompted me to stand in a queue to get his book ‘Toyota Kata’ autographed by him!!


His prognosis is

1. The world is copying the ‘visible’ aspects of TPS – the ‘solutions’  born out of the ‘invisible’ (latent) practices/ methods / ‘behavioral routines’ (called ‘Kata’) McGraw Hill, 2010

2. The visible aspects of TPS (manifested in WCM/ Lean etc.) are solutions devised by Toyota’s employees to the problems faced by them, on their gemba

3. We are copying the ‘solutions’ (Tools), but are ignorant of the practices that have enabled the journey to these solutions – he calls them ‘Improvement Kata’, which is universally practiced by
everyone, everyday, everywhere in Toyota

That takes us back to our Kaicho – Imai-san. His definition of kaizen (1986, his first book KAIZEN) told us the same thing:

‘Kaizen means ongoing improvement involving everyone………’


However, over the years people remembered ‘ongoing improvement’;  but forgot ‘everyone’, & the implied ‘everywhere’! So, we return where we started from – is that the ‘cycle of learning’?

Mike Rother’s‘Improvement Kata’ is his description of the process/ method/ routine of ‘Kaizen’ –as practiced by Toyota. His ‘Coaching Kata’ is the process/ method/ routine of ‘Leadership behavior’ to ensure that kaizen sustains in Toyota.

Implication: TPS was born out of kaizen practices at Toyota. This was the subject of my session during IndiZen 2012 covered elsewhere in this issue. How to build a durable kaizen culture is a question, which continues to fascinate & intrigue practitioners. Perhaps Mike Rother has found one answer.

Even though we may have viable answers,

a) Do we have effective methods of implementing those answers in other environments?
b) Do we have enough senseis, who can coach those effective methods in real-life situations?
c) Do we have enough enlightened corporate leaders with adequate patience to devote time & effort for building a durable culture?

Possession of the right answers is no more than a beginning! I leave you with more questions than answers. Our quest for the right  answers is perhaps the eternal pathway for human progress. May you, the readers ask the right questions. For, only the right questions can lead us to the right answers.


Author: Kaizen Institute - India!

Kaizen Institute – India is part of the Global Kaizen Institute operations. Kaizen Institute was established by Sensei Masaaki Imai, the GURU of Kaizen. He wrote the 1st book 28 yrs ago and that is when it all started . We operate in 30+ countries today and have over 400+ coaches helping more then 600 organizations Learn, Apply, Sustain – Kaizen/ Operational Excellence. In India we have two physical offices – Pune & Ahmedabad and 27 coaches in all.

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