Category Archives: Kata Coaching

Continuous Improvement for Agile and Super7

Kata, Kaizen, DMAIC and Value Stream Re-Design – all Lean improvement methods can be used for Continuous Improvement for Agile and Super7 teams. But what is the best? Which method should we use? This is not an easy question. It depends. It depends on the scale of the desired improvement. It depends on the desired speed of improvement. And, some methods require more specific expertise than others.

Super7’s and Agile teams are faced with the question of which improvement method they should use for Continuous Improvement. They are expected to improve autonomously. Therefore, autonomous teams such as Super7 teams and Agile Teams should know these Lean improvement methods, enough to select the right one for the right problem.

A quick overview of the methods for Continuous Improvement for Agile and Super7

Value Stream Re-Design

  • Improvement of the entire value stream – the end-to-end process from demand to supply
  • Re-design based on principles, most often the Lean Principles of Pull and Flow
  • Uses Value Stream Mapping, a standardized way of visualizing how value flows
  • Large improvements, with often quite extensive impact on people, processes and organization
  • Requires expertise on Value Stream Mapping and Lean


  • Lean Six Sigma improvement project approach
  • Standardized phases: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control
  • Fact based, measurement based problem solving by eliminating root causes
  • Useful when the root cause of a problem is unknown
  • Requires expertise on statistics, analytics and Lean Six Sigma at Blackbelt level


  • Lean method for small step improvement in one or two days
  • Quick analysis based on available data
  • Improvement based on Lean principles
  • Team of experts and operational employees
  • Participants are made free from their regular work during the kaizen
  • Sometimes facilitated by Blackbelts or Greenbelts

Improvement Kata

  • Continuous improvement as a habit
  • Every day, everyone, the way of the learning organization
  • Many small experiments
  • Discovering the way towards improvement as you go
  • Often supported with the use of Coaching Kata
Improvement Kata

Improvement Kata

On earlier posts on this site ( you can find more information on this subject. For instance, how Improvement Kata is applied by Super7 Teams.


Menno R. van Dijk.

Situational Leadership for development of autonomous team

Leaders of developing autonomous teams can use the Situational Leadership theory to help and support the teams in their growth towards autonomy. Autonomous teams – Super7’s, Agile Squads, Scrum Teams, etc., can’t be fully autonomous from day one. So, how does a manager manage an autonomous team or Super7 that is still developing towards true autonomy? The answer: apply Situational Leadership.

Situational Leadership is based on the Hersey Blanchard Leadership Style matrix (see figure).

Hersey Blanchard Leadership Style matrix

leadership styles for autonomous teams

A newly formed not-yet-autonomous team benefits from the directing leadership style. For instance, an Agile Squad in this phase needs to be told how to work the agile way. And the operations team manager of an immature Super7 team may need to tell the team to use their team board for daily planning.

As the autonomous team develops, the required leadership style changes accordingly. From Directing to Coaching, then on to Supporing and finally Delegating.

In practice, however, this can be quite challenging for a team manager. In my experience with Super7 Operations, the most difficult part of the implementation of Super7 is often to apply the right management style at the right time. And, every manager has his or her preferred style: the style that he or she does best. In a traditional operations department where managers steer on input and use strict quantitative controls, directing and coaching are most often needed. In a mature Super7 organization, however, Delegating and Supporting are the most useful styles.

As a result, the managers that are good at Directing and Coaching often make the most progress at the start of the implementation. But in the long run, a Super7 Operations department thrives under managers that are good at Delegating and Supporting. This asks a lot from the managers. It is good to acknowledge this fact. A successful implementation needs to address not only the methodological side of Super7 , but also take into account the ‘warm undercurrent’ of the change on a personal level.

Menno R. van Dijk.


Improvement Kata for Agile teams, Squads, Scrum and Super7 teams

Improvement Kata for Agile teams, Agile Squads, Scrum teams or Super7 teams: the Improvement Kata is an excellent tool for all forms of autonomous teams.

Agile teams can use Improvement Kata in their start-up phase, to quickly get to the next step of team maturity. They can use the improvement kata to solve issues, impediments and problems.

Improvement Kata is also an excellent method for their support staff: Agile coaches, Scrum masters, Lean coaches and Lean Six Sigma Blackbelts.

Similar to how Agile develops, Kata improves in small steps and doesn’t plan the whole path to the desired improvement. The desired end state or ‘definition of awesome’ is known. But only the first achievable target condition is determined in advance. No further milestones.

Additional to how Agile develops, Kata Improvement put even more emphasis on learning. An experiment may fail, as long as the team has learned from it. Agile does this to some extent, by working on minimal viable products that can be tested in practice. The experiments in the Improvement Kata are even more frequent. Many small experiments ensure continuous learning and continuous improvement.

How does Improvement Kata for Agile work?

Traditional improvement is project based – see figure 1.

figure 1 - the old way of improving

figure 1 – the old way of improving






The Improvement Kata doesn’t plan the whole route: only the next target condition is clearly defined. See figure 2.


Figure 2 - the Improvement Kata

Figure 2 – the Improvement Kata





The Improvement Kata doesn’t tell you how to get to the next target condition, let alone how to get to your desired situation. It doesn’t tell you which steps to take to reach this year’s target. The Improvement Kata lets you discover the route as you go. See figure 3.


Figure 3 - finding the path to improvement

Figure 3 – finding the path to improvement





More theory and examples of Kata coaching can be found on or in books and you-tube posts of Mike Rother.

The improvement Kata shows strong similarities to Agile and Scrum. This makes it the best improvement and problem solving method for Agile teams, Squads, Tribes, Scrum Teams. And it has proven itself for Super7 teams, also. It’s the best way to get to a true learning organization and continuous improvement. This enables you to cope with the ever changing demands of customers and regulators, especially in the current market for Financial Services.

Menno R. van Dijk.

Transformation to Agile benefits from LeanSixSigma experience

When traditional organizations transform into Agile, they can benefit from their LeanSixSigma experience.

Many traditional companies are looking with great interest at how innovative tech companies are organized. Even in banking, an industry that is known for being conservative, experiments are taking place with Agile Organization:

  • multidisciplinary squads instead of functional teams,
  • tribes instead of departments
  • IT development and business management in close cooperation
  • Continuous delivery of small changes (sprints) instead of big projects

Lean Six Sigma has been applied in banking for more than a decade. Many banks have their own pool of Lean Experts or LeanSixSigma Blackbelts. As Agile is based on similar principles as Lean and the Toyota Production System, this experience may be very valuable in this transition.


Agile organizations use Agile Coaches, to help the team in the use of the Agile and Lean principles. LeanSixSigma could add to that. For instance:

  • Put focus on the Voice of the Customer. Challenge the Squads to determine and measure the customer impact of their work.
  • Make sure the quantitative results of every sprint are visible
  • Achieve alignment between squad missions, tribe purpose and company vision. This can be done through Hoshin Kanri – a method for policy deployment developed by Toyota and an important Lean method
  • Accelerate problem solving by applying the Coaching Kata to the squads Improvement Kata, and by applying Analytical Problem Solving techniques from LeanSixSigma


The transformation of classical Back-Offices to Lean Super7 Operations has been an exciting journey so far. The transformation from a top-down functional organization to an Agile organization promises to be even more so.

Menno R. van Dijk.

Improvement kata to implement change

The principles of the Improvement Kata can be a powerful and effective way to implement any change, including the implementation of Super7 Operations.

The Toyota Improvement Kata, or Lean Kata, is a powerful and proven method for solving problems and driving continuous improvement. And, it can also be applied to implement the change from classical operations to an agile way of working. Recently, I’ve applied the improvement kata for implementing Super7 Operations in an operational back-office.

The Toyota Improvement Kata, or Lean Kata, starts with having a vision. Some companies use the term “Our definition of awesome” for this. Others use policy deployment or Hoshin Kanri to translate the companies purpose, mission and vision to yearly goals. When you implement a different way of working, e.g. autonomous lean teams or Super7 Operations, your vision could for instance be to have your teams achieve full autonomy.

The next step is then to implement the basics. For Super7 Operations, the teams need to learn how they can plan and organize their work. The 7 principles of Super7 Operation need to be introduced. You don’t have to explain everything, learning by doing is very powerful in the first phase. This is in line with the Shu phase of the ShuHaRi approach (see my earlier post on

Then, we don’t plan the transition in the classical way. No milestones. Instead, define the next target condition. For Super7 Operation, this translates to the next level of maturity, on all seven principles of Super7 Operations. For this, we’ve developed a high-over description of each of the 5 levels of maturity, for each principle of Super7 Operations. Next to this, the level of autonomy is also taken into account.

Finally, the team managers and implementation consultants decide on what experiments may help the team to reach the target condition. The actual action will depend strongly on the level of autonomy of the team. Immature teams benefit from instructions, mature teams will come into action when the right coaching questions are asked.

As you can see, this weekly cycle is based on the Improvement Kata. The results so far are very promising indeed. I will certainly continue experimenting with it myself.

Menno R. van Dijk.

ShuHaRi as a way of implementing Super7

Implementation of Super7 Operations can benefit from ShuHaRi, the Japanese learning-technique that is often used to introduce Agile Scrum. This way, you can give the team the responsibility for how to apply the principles of Super7, as soon as they are ready for it.

Should we ask the people from the shop floor to participate in the design of Super7? As Super7’s are supposed to be autonomous, why not give them autonomy in how Super7 Operations is applied in their teams? These questions often arise when organizations are planning to adopt Super7 Operations.

I feel that it is a very good idea to give the Super7 teams full autonomy on how they apply the principles of Super7. However:

  • People can only be expected to master the principles, and apply them to their own view, when they first fully understand them;
  • And, they can only fully understand them after they have experienced working with them;
  • And experience isn’t gained through explaining and training, but through doing.

My approach to implementing Super7 Operations is based on ShuHaRi, a Japanese teaching philosophy. So, a bit of theory, then:

ShuHaRi describes three phases that you go through when learning a technique:

 Shu: As a student, you follow the teachings of the master precisely. You don’t have to know the underlying principles. You practice the standard way that the master teaches you.

Ha: You are now able to execute the new technique, and you start to recognize the principles and theory behind it. The teacher may help you by explaining the principles to you. You now start to experiment with applying the principles, not only the standard that you have been taught.

Ri: You are now able to improve on the standard, by applying the principles. You use your experience to make the technique better for your situation. The principles are so clear to you that you can apply them without help from a master.

The ShuHaRi method is now widely used within Scum and Agile software development. Alistair Cockburn translated this Japanese martial arts best-practice to a way to learn techniques and methodologies for software development.

In our most recent Super7 Operations implementation projects, we’ve applied ShuHaRi in combination with the Improvement Kata. See my previous posts on the subject of Kata for more information. ShuHaRi and Improvement Kata are combined to give the team weekly target conditions that they can experiment towards, where the focus shifts from instruction towards freedom to change the method as seen fit. But this is perhaps too abstract, too much for one blog post. I will go into my approach to implementation in more detail in the near future.

Menno R. van Dijk.

Improve performance without performance dashboards

Can you improve performance without operational dashboards? As a consultant, I regularly speak with team managers about their team’s improvement efforts, or the lack of thereof. One cause of stalling improvement that keeps popping up is: “I don’t have accurate data. I can’t do anything about team performance without accurate data.” Of course, performance dashboards can be important for many reasons, for one to give focus to your improvement efforts. But is the absence of performance dashboards a reason not to improve? It doesn’t have to be.

An operational team should be given the responsibility to improve their work on a daily basis. Improvement should be their habit. It should feel weird not to be experimenting at any given time. This works best with autonomous teams, which work together on one common daily goal. The Toyota Kata has taught us that these teams should do frequent, small scaled experiments. And that it is equally important that the team learns from each experiment, as that the performance actually improves.

To start improving, a team needs time (a bit of overcapacity is needed to improve), and direction. The direction – what should the team’s improvement efforts focus on – could be derived from operational dashboards. But, often just as well, the direction could follow from a vision, translated into ‘target states’ (see The Toyota Kata). In Lean companies, the vision would be translated through ‘policy deployment’ or ‘hoshin kanri’ in Japanese, other companies would use for instance year-plans.

With time and direction in place, all a team needs is resourcefulness and a whiteboard. Well, you could do without a whiteboard, but in my experience it’s a great tool for improving and experimenting.

As a manager, ask your teams to start improving with what they know now. In parallel, you can work on perfecting your operational dashboards. Don’t wait for perfect dashboards. Start improving today.


Menno R. van Dijk.

Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata: Improvement as a habit

 You can make improving into a habit by practicing the improvement kata and the coaching kata over and over again. Kata (かた) is a ‘style’ of martial arts, aimed at perfect execution of the movements through repeated practicing (“paint the fence, Daniel-San”). By practicing often the routine becomes a habit – you can do it without having to think about it. Learning to drive a car is also an example of this principle: at first, you really need to think about what you doing, and after a while you do it thoughtlessly.

 For Super7 Operations, the combination of the Improvement Kata and the Coaching kata works like charm:

  • Improvement in small increments
  • Weekly improvement activities
  • Learning something every week
  • Managing output, not what the team is doing
  • Coaching on improving 
  • A true learning organisation

 Below, I explain how this works in 4 illustrations:

1. The Improvement Kata: weekly experimenting  is the Super7s’ habit


Improvement Kata: weekly experimenting  is the Super7s’ habit

Improvement Kata: weekly experimenting is the Super7s’ habit

2. Coaching Kata: Team managers create movement by asking the right questions – steering on output, coaching on improvement

Coaching Kata: Team managers create movement by asking the right questions - steering on output, coaching on improvement

Coaching Kata: Team managers create movement by asking the right questions – steering on output, coaching on improvement

3. Improvement Kata: weekly experiments are the habit of team managers – leading by example

Improvement Kata: weekly experiments are the habit of team managers - leading by example

Improvement Kata: weekly experiments are the habit of team managers – leading by example

4. Coaching Kata: Department manager forms the fundament of the Learning Organisation, steering on output and coaching  improvement

Coaching Kata: Department manager forms the fundament of the Learning Organisation, steering on output and coaching  improvement

Coaching Kata: Department manager forms the fundament of the Learning Organisation, steering on output and coaching improvement

More on Super7 Operations can be found in my book: Super7 Operations – The Next Step for Lean in Financial Services.


Menno R. van Dijk