Stop Doing Retrospectives – Agile Adria 2013


You have been doing agile for a few years now. With a regular cadence you have retrospectives and a lot of problems and great improvement opportunities are raised but nothing seems to really improve. Stop doing retrospectives!

It is time to take your improvement work to a whole new level! It’s time to shift your focus form collecting problems to making small experiments! It’s time to create the daily habits of continuous improvement. It is time to start using Toyota Kata!

In this session you will get a practical introduction to Toyota Kata. You will learn about the two Kata’s, behavior patterns, of Toyota Kata. You will follow a team that goes through the two Kata’s and improves its way of working.


This is the presentation I gave at Agile Adria, Terme Tuhelj, Croatia, April 22-23, 2013

I’m speaking at Jfokus 2013 – Stop doing Retrospective and start your Toyota Kata

Jfokus banner_speaking_2013_450x200_v1

On the 6th of February at 14:00 I will speak at Jfokus 2013 in Stockholm.

Please join me  and learn about Toyota Kata in my session Stop doing Retrospective and start your Toyota Kata

Here is a short promotion video of my session

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.

Agile LEGO – Toyota Kata an alternative to Retrospectives


My name is Håkan Forss and I’m a Lean/Agile Coach at Avega Group in Stockholm.

In this short story I want to introduce Toyota Kata as an alternative or as a complement to agile retrospectives.

But let me first introduce you to the team.


This is a tightly knit, cross-functional and very experienced team. They have been working with agile for a few years, mostly using Scrum.

The team consists of developers, testers, operations and business representatives.


The team has made many big process improvements over the years.

After great resistance from the office manager and human resources the team could last year be fully collocated.

They have adopted pair programming and test driven development.

But lately the team seems to have plateaued and is not improving any more.


At the end of every sprint the team does their agile retrospective

They reflect on what worked well, what did not work as well and what could improve.


They collect suggestions on improvements and add them to the already long and growing list of improvement suggestions.

They prioritize the improvement list and what improvements should be done in the next sprint.


Maybe it is time to try an alternative?


One such alternative may be Toyota Kata from the book with the same name.

The Toyota Kata book is written by Mike Rother and it describes two behavior patterns, or two Kata-s


The two Kata-s are:

  • The Improvement Kata
  • The Coaching Kata

In this story we will touch on the Improvement Kata.


The Improvement Kata guides us in a very focused way from our Current Condition towards our vision. The path goes through a number of intermediate Target Conditions in an iterative manner.


The Improvement Kata contains four steps

  1. Understand the Direction, so you know where you are going
  2. Grasp the Current Condition, to get your reference point
  3. Establish the Next Target Condition, that is your next step on the path towards the vision
  4. Plan-Do-Check-Act Toward the Target Condition


Having a clear vision, a compass heading, a true north is very important.

This is our guiding star that will make us all go in the same direction and not lose our focus.


As important as our vision, or maybe even more important is to grasp our Current Condition.

And I mean REALLY grasp our Current Condition.


To really understand you need to go to the place where the real work is really done. You need to talk to the people really doing the work.

You need to measure and collect data to grasp you Current Condition.


When we understand where we are and we have our long term vision it is time for the team coach and leader to set a challenging but not too challenging Target Condition.


A Target Condition describes the state of the process when the target is achieved. It does NOT describe the steps needed to get there.


When the Target Condition is set it is the teams turn to come up with experiments, Plan-Do-Check-Act cycles, that will take the process towards the Target Condition.


The team tries different experiments using Plan-Do-Check-Act cycles until they have reached or are close to reaching the Target Condition.

Then the Improvement Kata starts over and a new Target Condition gets set that is a little bit closer to the long term vision.

Now that the team has tried this for a few months, how are they doing?



With Toyota Kata the team can now be more focused on continuously improving their process. They practice the Improvement Kata every day and gets better and better at hands on problem solving. We have created a true learning organization.

Toyota Kata rocks!!


This story was presented as an ignite talk at Agila Sverige 2012 the 23rdof April.

The Toyota Kata and related material is developed by Mike Rother and his team. You can find more information here

A special thank you  goes to Andrea Chiou Adaptive Collaboration for help with my poor spelling.

Scattershot Improvement Lists or Behaviors for Continuous Improvement

It is the end of the sprint and time has come for the retrospective. Scrum Master Jane starts by explaining the objective of the meeting.

The retrospective meeting is our time as a team to reflect back on how the sprint went. We will map out what went well and what can be improved. We as a team will then vote on what improvements we will work on during the next sprint

Jane then starts the meeting by setting the stage with a simple exercise.

Jane then moves on to a formalized discovery exercise where the team members writes post-it notes with things that went well and what can be improved. After 10 minutes of everyone writing notes Jane starts going through the post-its and the author describe what they mean. Jane then starts grouping the post-its into groups of similar things. The team adds some more post-it notes as they get more ideas based on the wall.

Jane now asks the team to dot vote for the improvement they want to commit to in the next sprint. People vote and there are two improvements that get 80% of the votes.

Jane asks the team if they are willing to commit to these two improvements for the next sprint. The team says yes.

Jane now close the retrospective by asking everyone to give appreciation to each other for a work well done.

This may be something you recognize from a scrum team you have been part of. This is at least a typical retrospective from most team I have worked in. Is this really cultivating a culture of continuous improvements?


The common improvement list of most retrospectives is a ineffective and scattershot approach to process improvements.

Setting a target condition and purposely using PDCA(Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycles to get to that target condition in small focused steps every day is a much better approach.

In the book “Toyota Kata” Mike Rother writes the following about Action-Item Lists like the list the team produced in the above retrospective.

1. It doesn’t work very well. The underlying thinking with the list approach appears to be that the more action items we have, the more the process will be improved. … the list approach is an unscientific and ineffective method for process improvement. It is actually a scattershot approach: multiple action items are initiated in the hope of hitting something.

2. We are in the dark. Defining and introducing several action items simultaneously, and sometimes even voting to prioritize them, indicates that we don’t know what we need to do to improve. It would be better to simply stop and say we don’t yet know what exactly to do. “I don’t know” is a completely acceptable answer and much preferable to pretending we do know, but this seems to be one of the hardest things to say.

3. We are asking our self the wrong question. When we hunt for wasted opportunities to improve and make list of action items, we are focusing on the question, “What can we do to improve?” The question is actually too easy, and it automatically leads us to lists and a scattershot approach. The more focused question is, “What do we need to do to improve this process?” Admittedly, this is a more difficult question …

4. We are jumping to countermeasures too soon. A weakness in the list approach is a tendency to jump to countermeasures before we understand a situation. … People are rewarding people for fixing a problem, for firefighting, not for analyzing, even though the problem may recur later because it was not yet sufficiently understood.

5. We are not developing our people’s capabilities. The list approach does not harness or grow our problem solving and improvement capability in a very effective manner.

What he suggests in stead is to purposely go through a behavior pattern he calls an “improvement kata”.

In short an “improvement kata” is a behavior pattern where you move from your current condition through a number of intermediate goals towards a future vision using focused PDCA cycles.

With continuous improvement it is most important to know where you want to go. To have your “True North”. Without something to move towards how else do you know if you improve?

It is also very important to truly understand where you currently stand.

Now you can form a direction by setting the next intermediate goal – target condition – towards the vision.

You then ask your self what obstacles prevents you from reaching that target condition today. You choose one and only one of the obstacles. Now start go through PDCA cycles until you have eliminated that one and only one obstacle.

Then you go and see what you have learned.

Is your new current condition the same as your target condition? If not, choose the next obstacle and try to eliminate that one. If you are close to, or at the target condition, then it is time to set a new target condition on the direction towards the vision.

How could Jane do the “improvement kata” in her team? Let’s look at an example.

It is Tuesday morning at 09:00 and Jane the team leader opens todays Daily Standup Meeting.

Good morning everyone. Great job yesterday everyone! Lets go through the board and see how we stand today.

Jane goes through the kanban board starting at the end of the value stream. She focus on blocked work and work that are, or that potentially will not meet the target delivery dates. Jane then asks the team if the board shows all the work that they are working on. Everyone nods.

Jane now moves on too the second part of to the daily meeting.

What is your target condition here?

Mike, one of the business analysts, speaks up

At the Operations Review last week we agreed to set a target condition of a continuous flow of 4 stories ready for production every week.

Jane then asks:

What is the actual condition now? How does your throughput data look like?

Mike shows Jane the throughput measurement diagram posted on the board. The diagram shows that the throughput has been steadily been climbing for the last few months but are now starting to flat line just below 3.5 stories per week.

What obstacles are now preventing you from reaching the target condition of 4 stories every week?

Jane asks the team. Bob a tester in the team answers:

We think it is the how we deploy and how we set up our test environment.

Jane wants Bob to explain why he think that this is the case. It is not that Jane doesn’t trust Bob and the rest of the teams analysis but she wants them or explain how they formulated that hypothesis.

Bob and Mike points to the board and the “Ready for Test” queue. It contains six work items, two over the work in progress limit set by the team. They also show the Cumulative Flow Diagram that shows that the “Ready for Test” queue has slowly been growing over time. Bob also says that he and the other tester has to wait for hours when they want to start testing the next story. Bob explains that they have done a root cause analysis and have found two major root causes that they think would move them closer to the target condition. The root causes are:

  1. The deployment to the test environment is done manually
  2. The time to set up the reference database takes way too long

Which one are you addressing now?

Jane asks. Bob answers

We are looking at starting on both this week

Jane responds

Lets us take it one step at the time and see if the change we will make has the result we are expecting. If we do more than one thing at the time we can’t be sure of the cause and effect relationships. What root cause would you start with? The manual deployment?

The team agrees that that can be a good start. Jane now asks the team to start a new PDCA cycle testing the hypothesis. And ends the meeting by asking:

When can we go and see what we have learned from taking that step?

Give us a week and we will see where we stand

Bob answers. Jane is satisfied for today and ends the meeting.

Jane would one week later, or earlier, go through the five “improvement kata” questions again with the team:

  1. What is your target condition here?
  2. What is the actual condition now?
  3. What obstacles are now preventing you from reaching the target condition?
    Which one are you addressing now?
  4. What is your next step?
    (start of the next PDCA cycle)
  5. When can we go and see what we have learned from taking that step?
      When the target condition is reached, then a new target condition will be set that moves a small step towards the vision and

“True North”


Repeating this behavior pattern over and over and you can create an environment of continuous improvements. I will practice the “improvement kata” and learn for my self how this is done in practice. It will probably be a struggle but to quote Aristotle:

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.

Will you join me in this learning journey? Read more about Toyota Kata here on my blog