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Bookshelf: Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process to Solve Problems, Gain Agreement, Mentor and Lead

Nov. 7, 2008
By John Shook, The Lean Enterprise Institute, October 2008, 138 pages, $50

Traditionally, an A3 report is a method used to identify a problem, analyze it, devise corrective actions and an action plan -- all on a sheet of paper. But A3 can also be utilized as a management tool, according to the latest book from the Lean Enterprise Institute, Managing to Learn. The book, authored by lean researcher and developer John Shook, explores the possibility of utilizing the A3 process to build what Shook calls "foundational structures for sharing a broader and deeper form of thinking."

Managing to Learn tells two stories side by side -- one of a young manager named Desi Porter who is put in charge of the document-translation process when his Japanese-owned company decides to expand with the construction of its largest overseas plant. The other story is about his boss's goal to teach Porter and his employees a deeper form of thinking that will help them manage future issues.

The A3 helps Porter learn to take initiative and ownership of situations. Initially, Porter quickly completes what he thinks is a thorough A3 by identifying the problem (too many vendors), and ties it up neatly with the appropriate follow-up steps, which he presents to his boss, Ken Sanderson.

Sanderson isn't impressed. He wants Porter to walk through the process (GEMBA) to rule out other possibilities and to gain a better understanding of each step along the way. In other words, he "wanted to help Porter avoid what experienced lean thinkers consider one of the gravest errors: appearing to know something concrete about a situation without having precise, direct knowledge," writes Shook.

The A3 provides Porter and others a way to "articulate and then share" their problems. In turn, the process allows the facts to speak for themselves rather than devising a quick solution driven by one person's agenda.

In the concluding chapter Shook advises the A3 owner to "objectively, dispassionately, take your own ego out of the equation while also being a champion, an entrepreneurial owner of your own proposal."

For an up-close look at how the process really works, the book includes a pull-out sample of actual A3s, so readers can visualize how a thorough and effective A3 should appear.

Hear John Shook SpeakJohn Shook will present Managing To Learn -- The Roles of Lean Management and Lean Leadership at the 2009 IW Best Plants Conference, April 27-29, 2009, in Nashville, Tenn. Shook's talk will move beyond both the technical tools of lean production and the theories of organizational culture to describe specific strategies leaders can employ to transform their organizations. Click here to learn more about this opportunity.

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