Agile LEGO – Kanban Kata getting started

Recently I ran a Toyota Kata style retrospective meeting at a new client. In this post I will share how I set it up and how it went.  

Kanban Kata getting started Slide1 Kanban Kata getting started Slide2

Please take a look at Agile LEGO – Toyota Kata an alternative to Retrospectives and Kanban Kata #klrat session for some background information on Toyota Kata and Kanban Kata.


This is a team of approximately 15 people including Business analysts, Developers, Testers and Managers. They develop custom software for their organization.

This team has been using Kanban for some time now and have used the Agile retrospectives format as the main process improvement initiative with mixed results. I suggested a more focused approach. We decided to try a Toyota Kata style retrospective meeting.

The meeting

The meeting time of 2 hours was on the short side as this was the first meeting and Toyota Kata was new to the team.


I stated off running through an extended version of Agile LEGO – Toyota Kata an alternative to Retrospectives and the Lean LEGO – The red brick cancer presentations to give the team a basic understanding of the Toyota Kata approach and the importance of flow efficiency.


After the into I ran the ESVP exercise from Agile retrospectives.

Term definitions
Explorers are eager to discover new ideas and insights. They want to learn everything they can about the iteration/release/project.

Shoppers will look over all the available information, and will be happy to go home with one useful new idea.

Vacationers aren’t interested in the work of the retrospective, but are happy to be away from the daily grind. They may pay attention some of the time, but they are mostly glad to be out of the office.

Prisoners feel that they’ve been forced to attend and would rather be doing something else.

In this exercise each team member anonymously reports his or her attitude toward the meeting as an Explorer, Shopper, Vacationer, or Prisoner (see sidebar).

I asked everyone to write down the letter E,S,V or P on a post-it and fold it and the give them to me (using a post-it was a bad idea as they stuck together and was hard to open).

I then made a simple histogram of the collected answers. And then destroyed the post-it to ensure anonymity.

We had a very short reflection on the results.

I then announced it was time for a coffee break and that anyone that did not want to stay for the second half of the meeting was free not to come back after the break.

The intension was to only have the team members interested in the improvement work back after the coffee break.


After the coffee break we started up with the Vision/Challenge part of the Improvement Kata.

Kanban Kata getting started Slide3 

As we had few Prisoners and Vacationers in the group we were surprised that everyone showed up after the coffee break. However we had a few drop offs due to double booked meetings later in to the meeting.

“We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”


To get us started the team manager and I had set up a first challenge for the team. We had not put a lot of effort into formulating this challenge and it is definitely not a vision. But the important part is to get going and running through the Kata’s. Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis.

Toyota Kata is about the habit of doing it!

Kanban Kata getting started Slide4

We set the challenge to be a reduction in lead times by 50%. And this should be done in 6 months.

We had some discussions about the challenge such as:

  • Why this particular challenge?
  • How do we define lead time for the process?
  • How do we measure it?

Great discussions! We defined the start and stop boundaries for what we would measure and improve in this challenge. We discussed the easies way to track this information. We decided to track start and end date information on the physical kanban cards on the board.

Current Condition

Now that we had set the challenge it was time to study the current condition.

Kanban Kata getting started Slide5 Kanban Kata getting started Slide6 

The Application Lifecycle Management system they use currently track some limited process data and we took a few minutes and went through the data. We saw that there was not a clear correlation between the amount of time for developing a story and the lead time for the story. Many small stories had longer lead times than the medium and large sized stories. Why?

As we had very little data I did not spend to much time on this. I wanted them to get started. We moved on to the Target Condition.

Target Condition

The team manager and I had set up a first Target Condition for the team as with the challenge.

Kanban Kata getting started Slide7 Kanban Kata getting started Slide8

We set the Target Condition to be a reduction in lead times by 25%. And this should be done in 2 months.

There was some strong objections to this Target Condition. A few felt the wanted a Target Condition that felt more easy to achieve. How could we do half the challenge in just one third of the time?

But most of the team felt that they wanted to take on the challenge. They thought the first 25% was going to be easier than the last one.

What is the next step?

We moved into identifying obstacles that are preventing the team from reaching the Target Condition.

Kanban Kata getting started Slide9 Kanban Kata getting started Slide10

After some discussions the team concluded that the amount of data we had to analyze was not sufficient. More data was needed.

Kanban Kata getting started Slide11

The team decided that the next step would be to collect some more process data. 

Kanban Kata getting started Slide12

I stressed that we don’t want to get stuck in analysis. I wanted to know when we could go and see the newly collected process data and see what we have learned. We decided to have a new meeting in two weeks.


And then we concluded the meeting with a short meeting retrospective. The team had some mixed feeling about switching to a new style of improvement work. They felt the Toyota Kata style felt more focused. We lacked process data to really analyze. They wanted to get going faster the next time, shorter presentations.

The team gave a Return On Invested Time (ROI-T) of ~3,8 (1=Time totally wasted, 5=could not spent the time better)

Some reflections

More than two hours is needed to get started. I would probably use 4 hours next time.

Next time more process data should be available at the startup meeting.

The general format held up well except the lack of process data.

People was much more engaged than what I use to see at retrospectives. Not sure if this was due to the new format or that it just was something new.

Creative Commons License The images in this post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

For more posts with LEGO see the LEGO tag.

4 thoughts on “Agile LEGO – Kanban Kata getting started

  1. Rasmus Rasmussen 2012-10-01 / 22:21

    Thank’s for sharing! Looking forward to hear how you progress from here (I know you will)

    • Håkan Forss 2012-10-01 / 22:25

      Yes it will be interesting to see how the team and it’s leaders progress from here.

      / Håkan

  2. Zsolt Fabok (@ZsoltFabok) 2012-10-02 / 16:12

    Hi Håkan, Liz Keogh suggested at lascot12 to change the Prisoner to Worker in the RSVP game. Her reasoning was that the “prisoner” is a negative term and if change the name to to “worker” then the definition is still valid. In most of the cases, participants are afraid to mark themselves as prisoners, but actually they are, and the worker is a bit closer to the state they are probably in. I won’t have the possibility to try it out, but you might 😉

    • Håkan Forss 2012-10-02 / 16:25

      Hi Zsolt,
      In the context I used it, their attitude toward being in the meeting, I think Prisoners is a good term. This is how they feel. I hope everyone is a worker even when they are in meetings. Using worker would also give the perception that, in this case, process improvement is not work. My 2 cents.

      / Håkan

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