My first 90 days at Toyota – How they develop capability and what I learnt


My first 90 days at Toyota UK were a steep learning curve. As a new hire, the target was to develop my capability to start doing some of the work I’d been employed for. The outcome was my first A3 but the process of how I achieved that is what I really learnt.

It was May 1995 when I walked under the chrome and red emblem to start work as a Technical Support Engineer in the Purchasing Department. The role was primarily to lead the preparation of suppliers for new model component introductions. As I became more knowledgeable and experienced the role also included supporting suppliers to deploy TPS and become more competitive for future business. I already had a couple of years’ experience under my belt at Triumph Motorcycles Ltd and felt pretty confident in my abilities to quickly start contributing – how wrong could I be?

Upon reflection, the onboarding process was something I have not seen in other companies since. I was assigned a shokuba senpai or a workplace big brother/sister. It was their task to coordinate my initial four-week training program and ensure my smooth integration into the department, however their key role was to develop my capability to enable me to start working. They were there to teach and coach and answer those many minor questions you have when starting out at a new company. For the shokuba senpai, it was also seen as progression and development for them, as they had been deemed capable enough to develop others or had a full pie on the skills matrix shall we say!

The culmination of this process was the A3 sign off to confirm my understanding of the role and allow me to start working alone, albeit with some support still. I should mention that the A3 wasn’t something I just did at the end, it was developed incrementally using information, learning and feedback from the daily reports I had to submit. It was a huge effort and nearly a month after my training had finished before I managed to get full sign off. Not surprising when you had to get approval from five other people. I can still remember staying behind in the evenings modifying it based upon feedback from prior reviews. I became so despondent with all the re-writing that I resorted to doing each section separately and photocopying them all in to one document – not ideal!

Some of you may be thinking how inefficient and time consuming this process was, but developing understanding takes time. The sign off was just as much a learning journey for those in the hierarchy too. “If the pupil hasn’t learnt, the teacher hasn’t taught”. The document wasn’t just a reflection of me but of my supervisor/manager also. Signing something is a very subtle but effective way to create that accountability and responsibility. Something that is not so commonplace nowadays.

Reviewing the document brings back so many memories and I can still explain it as if it were yesterday. It’s perhaps not the best example, but I literally started with a blank piece of paper, no template or example and was asked to summarise four weeks of learning on to one page. The flow isn’t particularly clear, it’s a little bit wordy and there are not enough facts and data for my liking, but twenty-five years of hindsight and A3 writing is a wonderful thing.

What I learnt is that learning is a journey, and it takes time to develop capability both on behalf of the mentor and mentee. Training can impart some knowledge but doesn’t demonstrate understanding. As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” and that is the true purpose of using A3’s – to develop capability, at all levels of the organisation. I continued to use this process for my own new hires as I moved into management and would encourage leaders to do the same today.

Having recently joined the LEA and starting to work on the Lean Learning Journey platform, we have discussed at length about how we approach people capability development. From gaining some knowledge, through to being able to teach and coach others, our goal is for customers to become self-reliant on their lean learning journeys. Read more about what we are doing here.

I hope you enjoyed me sharing the start of my learning journey and a special thank you to my shokuba senpai – you know who you are!