The Kata of Product Management

November 5, 2020
4 minute read
A guest post by Joanna Tivig & Peter Monkhouse


So what is Kata? Kata means pattern, routine, habits or repetitive ways of doing things. Kata is about creating a fast “muscle memory” of how to take action instantaneously in a situation without having to go through a slower logical procedure. A Kata is something that you practice over and over again, striving for perfection. 

In the book “Managing Flow”, Ikujiro Nonaka describes Kata as a traditional Japanese code that describes the process of synthesizing thought and behavior in skillful action; putting the reflection or thoughts into action or actionable results. If the Kata itself is relatively static, the concept of Kata is adapting to the context and the conditions generated by actions. Nonaka describes Kata as different from a routine in that it contains a continuous self-renewal process.

By repeating an action on a consistent basis, the results are improved and the techniques are mastered. That is why it becomes ingrained in our muscle memory and we start doing something by reflex. Toyota introduced kata into their mainstream business as part of its lean production system. Toyota Kata started being referenced in books and blogs until it became a concept for continuous improvement.

In the world of products, there are two main Kata practices being referenced: the coaching and the improvement. They both help organizations develop cultures of learning and innovation. By practicing kata on a daily basis, the product teams can develop routines that lead to product improvement and optimization. The ease of doing things also comes with practice and routine, increasing the confidence that you can do things right and achieve success. 

You may wonder what the benefits of Kata are, especially for product management. By looking at improving our ways of working and doing things in a more effective way, the Kata becomes a valuable concept. Here are three benefits we have summarized for you:

  1. Build a culture of learning and experimentation
  2. Do things right, which means being effective
  3. Find opportunities for continuous improvement and growth

Kata is about improving and adding to all the other agility methods out there, to help you and organizations manage your products. Learn how to evolve a Kata through the three stages of the learning cycle: Shu (learn), Ha (break) and Ri (create).

Read about Shu Ha Ri in our blog – Shu Ha Ri For The New Generation Of Product Owners.

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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