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Improvement Kata

A simulation game for familiarising yourself with the concept of improvement kata as a tool to develop a habit for continuous improvement.


Sportmen and musicians spend the majority of their time praticing before the big game or stage performance.  Why doesn't professionals do the same?

Improvement kata is a simalation game to familiarize teams with the 4 scientific steps to continuous improvement (understand the goal; understand where you are; set next goal; experiment and learn) with continuous practice, or kata.

The game is highly collaborative with the game itself fully customizable by replacing the card pattern with any easy assembly task, such as building a lego toy, assembling a pen, etc.  There is some preparation needed before the game can be used, however it is easy to use.   

The game is slightly adapted from the original version designed for school children a with all the resources for the excerise available on the website.  The ball point game is an adaptation of this game specific to a Scrum environment, with a link to a description of the game and some resources below.







The Game



Time required: 1 hour
Group size: 3 - 6 per team
Creator: Mike Rother, card game variation by Melissa Perri



Prepare the following materials (from for each team of 3 - 6 people:
- One deck of playing cards.
- Download and print a copy of the baseline / experiment timesheet.
- Download and print a copy of the abridged reflection card.

The facilitator downloads or prepare their own presentation to explain the concept of an improvement kata and facilitate the game.  
Optional: Download and print a copy of the improvement kata four step process poster.

For follow-up sessions (recommended) the facilitator replaces the card game with an alternative of their choice, such as the ball point game, assembling a pen or building lego.



1. Order the cards into the required pattern as quikly as possible (with maximum 4 people moving cards).

2. The cards must be neatly spaced with roughly the same space between the rows and columns of the cards (quality constraint).



1. Explain the concept of an improvement kata as a deliberate daily practice to turn a pattern into a habit.  For example practicing golf, practicing music etc.

2. Explain the four steps of an improvement kata pattern (understand the challenge, grasp the current situation, establish your next target condition, conduct experiments and reflect). Highlight the importance of experimentation and taking small steps to reach a goal.

3. Introduce the game by explaining that the objective is to experiment with different ways to reach the goal in a set of (up to) 5 iterations of the game.  

4.  Instruct each team to select one data recorder and one timekeeper. This can be the same person for teams with less than 5 people.

5. Let the teams (everyone) order the cards without a time limit to see how long it takes.

6. Explain the rules above and that to start all the cards must be shuffled and placed face down in one stack.   All hands must be flat on the table. When the facilitator says 'Go', a maximum of 4 people per team can start building the pattern. The timekeeper times the team and the data recorder completes the sheet.

7. Baseline round 1: Everyone gets into start position and run one basline round to obtain a baseline time and go through the reflection card questions.

8. Baline round 2 (optional): Repeat another round to increase learning (including the reflection card questions).

9. Set the timer to 90 seconds and let each team set their next target time.  

10.  Let the data recorder mark the final target condition in red pen on the sheet with a line.  Each team decide how they will reach the next target time set in the previous step.

11. Experiment round 1: Start the game as per the agreed plan, the data recorder writes the elapsed time on the sheet, discuss what you'll do in the next round and writes it on the form.  

12. The acilitator asks some reflection card questions randomly.

13. Experiment round 2: Repeat step 11 and 12.

14. Experiment round 3: Repeat step 11 and 12, this time pushing the teams to stretch their targets.

15. Reflect and discuss.



Substitute the cards with any simple task such as building lego, assembling a pen, etc.  The ball point game is a well-known variation on the improvement kata concept adapted to agile teams and including velocity.

Try it with a Coding Dojo kata or pick a small story from the Scrum backlog to practice.

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Workshop 17, V&A Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa


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