Forming Habits

Newsletter of Kata School Midwest
Issue #2: May 2021

Welcome to our second newsletter issue!

“Practicing the Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata forms habits that help you solve problems, achieve goals, and reframe how you look and deal with the world”. Mike Rother, The Toyota Kata Practice Guide.

Due to unpredictability, we cannot have predetermined solutions to the unforeseen situations that will happen. Rather, we need to form adaptation habit to allow generating new behaviors for navigating unknown situations. People who do the work design the new behaviors, only when managers become coaches helping them to explore new ways of work.

Deliberate practicing of Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata can form a habit for continuous improvement. In-addition, it allows generating context specific habits needed to address various challenges.


  1. Habit Forming
  2. Two tools for Behavior Design
  3. Resources
  4. Events
  5. Book Review

1.Habit Forming

“Habit formation is the process by which behaviors become automatic. Habits can form without a person intending to acquire them, but they can also be deliberately cultivated—or eliminated—to better suit one’s personal goals.” Psychology Today

From the above definition, Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata are about the deliberate formation of continuous improvement habit for the learner, in a way that allows progress towards the Direction.

“In Behavior Design, motivation is already embedded in the new habit. In other approaches you will struggle to maintain a habit you think you should do. And that doesn’t work very well”.
BJ Fogg PhD. Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything.

In non-repetitive work, which mainly depends on humans and their interactions, a possible way to navigate through complexity is to build the ability to create new behaviors.

“Kata are structured routines that get practiced deliberately, especially at the beginning, so their pattern becomes a habit and leaves you with new abilities”. Toyota Kata Culture – Mike Rother and Gerd Aulinger

As a coach I aim to develop Scientific Thinking behaviors in teams so that they deliberately design context-based behaviors that would allow them to solve their own challenges. They validate if these behaviors helped the progress towards Direction, not later than the achieve-by-date of the Target Condition.

For me, Target Condition, is a design imagined by learners depicting how they desire to operate at the achieve-by-date. This desired operating pattern can be a new behavior the team designs to enable achieving a certain outcome metric.

2. Two Tools for Behavior Design

These two tools are based on the work of BJ Fogg for designing Tiny Habits®. Guided by a coach, these tools can help learners to identify desired behaviors needed to progress towards the Direction.

Swarm of Behaviors Tool- Explore Behavior Options

Purpose: Brain-dump all possible behaviors that can help in achieving the Direction. These behaviors are initial candidates for the next Target Condition.

Tool Description: The cloud in the middle of the page contains the Direction. There are at least ten empty bubbles – representing behaviors – that the learners would envision based on their understanding of the Direction.

– The coach guides the learners to set free their imagination to generate as many behaviors as possible regardless of:
o the impact of specific behavior, and
o the learner’s ability and motivation to do the behavior.
– The learners write these wish behaviors on stickies and place them around the Direction.
– These behaviors are the possible ‘wish’ behaviors that cover a broad scope of thinking.
– The coach helps the learner to categorize each behavior based on:
o What behaviors would the learner do one time?
o What new habits would the learner create?
o What habit would the learner stop?
– When the learners exhaust all their wish behaviors, the coach asks questions, for example ‘And what Else?” To further stretch learner’s imagination to generate more wish behaviors.
– After finishing with all wish behaviors, the learners edit the wording of behaviors to be concise and clear.
– Eventually the generated behaviors will range from absurd to logical to surprising. That is okay. In the next tool, the learners will address filtering out these wish behaviors to the ones they are motivated to do while having the required ability.

Focus Mapping Tool- Match with Specific Behaviors

Purpose: The learners getting practical by matching themselves with specific behaviors — from the Swarm of Behaviors — that can work for them. BJ Fogg calls the best behaviors that match the learner the Golden Behaviors. A Golden Behavior satisfies the criteria: The behavior has positive impact on achieving the Direction, the learner is motivated to do the behavior, and the learner has the ability to do the behavior.

Tool Description:
The vertical axis represents a continuum of the anticipated positive impact of the behaviors. The higher the positive impact of a certain behavior, the higher its place on the vertical axis.
– Learners plot the behavior stickies on the vertical axis based on their relative impact.
– Similarly, the horizontal axis represents a continuum of both motivation and ability as a composite value.
– For a certain behavior, one learner may have higher ability than some other learner. Therefore, the learners decide collectively whether they can get themselves to do a given behavior.
– Focus Mapping tool helps people to adhere to Fogg’s Maxim #1 “Help people do what they already want to do”.

Round 1: Analyze Behaviors for Impact

During this round, the learners focus only on the impact of each behavior in achieving the Direction, regardless if they can get themselves to do it or not. There is no value from doing a behavior that does not help in the first place with achieving the Direction.

– For each behavior sticky, the learners ask themselves: “How effective is this behavior in helping us to achieve the Direction”? High impact behaviors are placed at the top of the vertical axis, while those with less impact are placed at a lower plot.
– Learner’s estimation of the impact of a behavior is just a guess, rather than a definitive impact. Meaning, experimentation is the name of the game; if the learners wrongly estimate a behavior as high-impact they will recognize as they start practicing that it is not helping.
– As stated earlier, behavior stickies are placed relative to each other. For example, there can be seemingly high-impact behaviors at the lower part of the vertical axis, just because there are higher impact behaviors. Again, the true validation of the impact will happen at the achieve-by-date of the Target Condition.
– After plotting all behaviors on the impact spectrum, the learners review the relative ordering and do more reshuffling of behaviors as needed.

Round 2: Learners Focus on Motivation and Ability

In this round, the learner becomes the real-self, not an imaginative version. Learners move stickies horizontally – while maintaining their vertical plot. Horizontal movement of a given behavior is based on thinking about both motivation and ability of the learner.

– For each behavior, the coach asks the learner a basic question, “Can you get yourself to do this?”. Learners take into the equation both motivation and ability.
– Taking motivation as a factor in deciding the horizontal location of a behavior is at the heart of empowerment.
– Learners slide a behavior sticky left and right with no judgement, by imagining themselves doing the behavior.
– The act of horizontally sliding a behavior sticky right and left is what BJ Fogg calls behavior matching to what learners want to do. Of course, for the purpose of progressing the learners towards achieving the Direction.
– The behaviors in the upper-right corner represent the Golden Behaviors. Behavior#8 in the picture not only has the highest impact, but also the learner has both the motivation and ability to do.

The behavior selected from among the Golden Behaviors can be framed as the Target Condition, with an achieve-by-date. This behavior describes the desired operating pattern of the learners. For example, a component team that I coach created a behavior to be achieved in three weeks to “review requirements from upstream teams based on a yet to be developed checklist”.

The selected Golden Behavior – as the case with any Target Condition – cannot be put in effect starting from day one. It will take daily experiments before the learners can integrate this behavior in their daily work.

I found it practical in some teams to have a behavior design perspective for establishing the Target Condition. Especially when the work is unpredictable and mainly based on the creativity of people who do the work.

I have teams who achieved multiple Target Conditions, each has its own operating pattern. Each operating pattern is a new a behavior that the team introduced in their quest for the Direction. There are operating patterns (aka behaviors) that teams stabilize and grow over time, and they became automatic routines (habits).

Sometimes, non-manufacturing practitioners might not be able to relate to 5S, Value Stream Mapping, machine tending, changeovers and others. They can incorporate behavior design tools in their practice for more meaningful adoption of Toyota Kata.

Practicing Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata means adhering to the intent of their various constructs, and not necessarily following domain’s specific tools. Above all, Toyota Kata is a way to help adopt the universal skill of Scientific Thinking, regardless of the domain. The red text, in the above popular Improvement Kata diagram, describes tools from behavior design. I found these tools helpful when working in a context that is human-centric and driven by creativity of people.


Achieving a new behavior (aka Target Condition) requires daily coaching by managers and daily experimentation by learners. This daily practicing of Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata represents practical steps for learning to achieve the Direction.

You can download the Swarm of Behaviors worksheet from this link . Also, You can find a video from BJ Fogg about Golden Behaviors in this link.

To learn more about Fogg’s Behavior model, please visit this page here. This model helped me to understand the three elements of any behavior so that I can introduce to teams. You can find a 2-minutes video describing baby-steps for behavior change using the Fogg’s Behavior Model is in this link.

4. Events

Please visit our Events Page here for a list of the events we will hold. We have the immediate next two events:

Hands-on Activity: Coaching Teams to do the work based on Improvement Kata
In-person activity in Dearborn, Michigan, on June 10, 2021 at 06:00 PM US EDT

Use the Improvement Kata Thinking Pattern to Scientifically Achieve Continuous Flow
Virtual activity, on June 14, 2021 at 11:00 AM US EDT

5. Book Review

We review books that we think are relevant to practitioners of Toyota Kata. BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habit book is suitable to the theme of this issue of the newsletter. Mike Rother refers to BJ Fogg’s work in some of his keynotes, for example this video at minute 32:18. Also, please refer to Mike Rother citation of Fogg’s Behavior model in his page here.

As we mentioned earlier, often our Target Condition is merely a new behavior that the learner wants to create and evolve through daily practice and feedback, so that it becomes a habit.

Tools from this book: Swarm of Behavior, Focus Mapping, Fogg Behavior Model

Fogg’s maxims for behavior design:
1– “Help people do what they already want to do”.
2- “Help people be successful”.

The philosophy of the above two maxims can guide the coach while helping learners adopting Improvement Kata.

Fogg’s Behavior model© is cited throughout this book to explain various concepts about behavior design.

For a behavior to take place, the three elements of motivation, ability and prompt need to come together. Motivation is the least reliable element for behavior change, it is an ever-changing element that comes in waves. Therefore, learners need to focus on simplicity of the behavior so that they have ability and motivation to practice. Simplicity creates habits.

Your Ability Chain is only as strong as its weakest Ability Factor link. This insight drills down to what ability means. This represents a rubric for learner to have objective discussion on their ability of doing a certain behavior. The composite effect of motivation and ability can come to play when the right prompt exists.

The anatomy of Tiny Habit is a prompt (anchor moment), tiny behavior and celebration.

Steps of behavior change:
1-Clarify aspirations.
2-Explore behavior options.
3-Match with specific behaviors.
4-Start tiny.
5-Find a good prompt.
6-Celebrate successes.
7-Troubleshoot, iterate and expand.

Emotions create habits: There is a direct connection between what you feel when you do a behavior and the likelihood that you will repeat the behavior in the future. Meaning, positive feelings of the learners help sustain practicing the behavior.

There is no universal answer about how long it takes to form a habit, because this formation time depends on the interaction between the three elements of:
-The person doing the habit
-The habit itself (the action)
-The context

The Five Skills of Change

Behavior Crafting Skill
– Cultivating lots of easy habits vs fewer but more challenging ones.
– Embrace variety habits- multi-theme habits, starter steps, scaled back versions
– Stay flexible to change habits as you progress

Self-Insight Skill
– The skill of knowing which new habits will have meaning to you, use criteria:
o The new habit affirms a piece of the identity that you want to cultivate.
o The new habit helps you achieve important aspiration,
o The new habit has big impact despite being tiny.

Process Skill
– The skill of knowing when to push yourself beyond tiny and ramp up the difficulty of the habit.
– Adjusting to the difficulty of your habit:
o Don’t pressure yourself to do more than the tiniest version of your habit.
o Don’t restrict yourself from going bigger if you want to do more.
o If you do too much, make sure that you celebrate extra hard.
o Use emotional flag to ramp-down or ramp-up a habit.

Context Skill
– For lasting change, you need to evolve your context to sustain your habits.
– Avoid being conformist, find what works for you.
– Design tools to overcome hurdles of sustaining a habit.

Mindset Skill
– The most two important mindset skills are:
o Celebration
o Embracing new identity
– Identity shifts are change boosters because it requires a set of new habits to get you where you want to be.
– Shifting identity helps you consider other new habits you might not have thought of doing that will move you closer to your aspiration.

We love to hear your feedback and comments

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