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Book Review: Toyota Kata

By Alexandra DeLory |

Title: Toyota Kata
Author: Mike Rother
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
ISBN: 0071635238 / 9780071635233

Toyota Kata – managing people for improvement, adaptiveness and superior results, puts you behind the curtain at Toyota, providing new insight into the legendary automaker's management practices. Mike Rother tries his hand at offering practical guidance for leading and developing people in a way that makes the best use of human brainpower. Drawing on six years of research into Toyota's employee-management routines, Rother explains how to improve our prevailing management approach through the use of two Kata: the improvement Kata and the Coaching Kata.

For those readers who are unsure of what Kata is, as I was when I first heard the term, Kata is a uniquely Japanese concept that describes an ideal way of doing something. The best known use of the word applies to the martial arts, where katas are a preset series of attacking and blocking movements that the practitioner uses to hone his or her skill. However in the Japanese society there is a Kata for almost everything, from how to drink tea (think of the famous Zen tea ceremonies) to how to think. (The book Kata: The Key to Understanding & Dealing with the Japanese! by Boyé Lafayette De Mente's explores the role of Kata in Japanese life.)

Toyota Kata explores Toyota's successful application of Kata to their management processes.

The book provides the reader with an interesting new perspective on management possibilities. Drawing on the principles of adaptation and improvement at the managerial level, Toyota Kata shows that the problem in several management models is not necessarily “old thinking” but rather that many companies fail to constantly adapt and improve their business strategies.

Although the book claims to provide an in-depth look at the process of managing companies of all sizes with Kata, it is a rather arduous task for the reader to seek out directly applicable managerial skills fit for a smaller sized operation. The literal ideas and examples within the book are in most cases best utilized within larger companies. The broader ideals of Kata-centric management are however presented suitably in examples and case studies.

That said it must also be understood that this book is not a step-by-step guide but rather a way of introducing a reader to a new thought paradigm on business management. The act of Kata itself is a highly Japanese practise and a difficult term to explain. It is best understood as both a creative and dynamic practise as well as an efficient and choreographed business model.

The content is a great read for those intrigued by the inner workings of the auto-giant. However, for those readers looking for a straight forward guide to better one's own managerial process, Toyota Kata may fall short of what you're looking for.

Readers may find this type of thought-shifting reading material of interest and indeed the application of Kata to one's own life or business may yield interesting results. Although Toyota Kata does not literally translate for the average business owner the text is most relevant and helpful if viewed as a broader directive for progressive management.

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