Improvements the Agile way: KATA board


No, you don’t have to throw away your Scrum and Kanban boards. Kata board (if you will) is a process that lives next to your scrum process. A kata typically refers to fundamental movements in Japanese martial arts but can refer to any basic form, routine, or pattern of behaviour.

The goal is to internalize the movements and techniques of a kata, so they can be executed and adapted under different circumstances, without thought or hesitation. And hence the need of kata in Agile development.

We shall look into Kata process to check if the agile world sees it a fit solution for making improvements. It’s an excellent tool for all forms of autonomous teams. Although agile is a very versatile broad and covers almost all aspects of project planning, there is still a gap in how to deal with improvements that span out over indefinite periods of time. There are some similarities in way of working in both the approaches though.

The traditional way of working

Let’s dive into the concept with an example. Here, the team very well understands that the business value is delivered by a usable mode of transport.
The eventual goal being a 4 wheeled car.
The team is expected to deliver something useful by each end of the sprint.
So, here they deliver a skateboard, followed by a kick-board scooter.
These are enhanced, and the stakeholders get a cycle, a motorcycle and eventually a car, in the consecutive sprints.


Kata way of working

Now the team identifies that they can achieve the goal above by practising agile. But they also know that the quality of their product can be improved by improving the quality of metal/alloy they use.

So, they follow kata to experiment with the quality, instead of first, taking a sprint or two to figure out the best possible alloy to use for achieving the best quality possible, before delivering anything useful.

As we can see, similar to the Agile way of working, Kata improves in small steps and doesn’t plan the whole path to the desired improvement. The desired end state or ‘definition of done’ is known. But only the first achievable target condition is determined in advance. No further milestones.

In the example above, the team learns more about the alloy. They gain knowledge about their boundaries. They might also find out that they can do more/less than the expected.

For e.g.: – They might figure out that there might be a composition of the alloy that is strong enough but at the same time lighter, which gives better performance and is more efficient.

Or they might figure out that it’s only possible to have a durable metal if its heavy. This might also mean that they have to take a blow on the performance of the vehicle.

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

Recognizable patterns of behaviour and clear expectations make it easy to recognize abnormalities (problems) and also serve as a basis for improvement, setting and attaining higher standards.

Kata is a repeating four-step routine by which an organization improves and adapts. It makes continuous improvement through the scientific problem-solving method of plan, do, check, act (PDCA) a daily habit. The four steps as shown in the improvement theme charter below are:

  1. Determine a vision or direction – Definition of Awesome
  2. Grasp the current condition – Now/Problem
  3. Define the next target condition – Next target condition
  4. Move toward the target (the plan or “P” defined by the first three steps) through quick, iterative PDCA cycles to uncover and remove obstacles – First steps

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. 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.

I would strongly recommend teams to try Kata alongside Agile to improve the quality of their deliverables or to improve on any pain points that create annoyance regularly.

Good luck and happy Improving!