I’m using Toyota Kata to help a client shorten its lead time for product design/delivery. This company sells primarily to department stores and mass merchants, a distribution channel that’s facing incredible pressure to shorten lead times—no one wants to guess six months out what’s going to sell, and inevitably be stuck with a bunch of closeout inventory. 

I have three teams working on experiments. As you’d expect with the kata approach, some of the experiments have yielded good results. Many more of them went nowhere. 

But the happy surprise for me (and the teams) was the improvement in cross-functional communication. The company is very siloed. Historically, people in one silo haven’t talked much to people in other silos, unless it’s to complain about something that’s gone wrong or to find out when something was going to get done. 

The experiments they’ve undertaken has forced the improvement teams to talk with people upstream and downstream from their silos. And that communication has really changed morale. It’s not all sweetness and light, of course, but there’s a greater appreciation on all sides for how their work affects others—and how difficult their jobs can be. 

We still have a long, long way to go, but the increased, and more productive conversations have already made a difference in attitude.