Managing to Learn

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Using the A3 management process to solve problems, gain agreement, mentor and lead


ISBN: 978-1934109205

Published: July 2010

Author: John Shook

Pages: 138

Publisher: Lean Enterprise Institute




Shingo Research and Professional Publication Award recipient

Managing to Learn by Toyota veteran John Shook, reveals the thinking underlying the vital A3 management process at the heart of lean management and lean leadership. Constructed as a dialogue between a manager and his boss, the book explains how “A3 thinking” helps managers and executives identify, frame, and then act on problems and challenges. Shook calls this approach, which is captured in the simple structure of an A3 report, “the key to Toyota’s entire system of developing talent and continually deepening its knowledge and capabilities.”

The A3 Report is a Toyota-pioneered practice of getting the problem, the analysis, the corrective actions, and the action plan down on a single sheet of large (A3) paper, often with the use of graphics. A3 paper is the international term for a large sheet of paper, roughly equivalent to the 11-by-17-inch U.S. sheet.

“The widespread adoption of the A3 process standardizes a methodology for innovating, planning, problem-solving, and building foundational structures for sharing a broader and deeper form of thinking that produces organizational learning deeply rooted in the work itself,” says Shook, who 10 years ago co-authored Learning to See, a groundbreaking LEI publication that taught readers how to map value streams to identify and eliminate waste. Learning to See has sold more than 173,000 copies and been translated into 12 languages.

Management expert James Womack, Ph.D., LEI founder and chairman, predicts Managing to Learn will have as deep an impact on the way lean companies manage people as Learning to See had on managing processes. “Readers will learn an underlying way of thinking that reframes all activities as learning activities at every level of the organization, whether it’s standardized work and kaizen at the individual level, system kaizen at the managerial level, or fundamental strategic decisions at the corporate level.”

A unique layout puts the thoughts of a lean manager struggling to apply the A3 process to a key project on one side of the page and the probing questions of the boss who is coaching him through the process on the other side. As a result, readers learn how to write a powerful A3—while learning why the technique is at the core of lean management and lean leadership.

Who Benefits

Executives and managers at all levels in the organization will benefit from the book. An A3 can be used wherever there is a need for people to work together to get clarity on a problem or proposal and then to create a set of realistic and effective countermeasures. A3s can be prepared by individuals, teams, or any leader and his or her report.


John Shook is an industrial anthropologist who began his observations and analysis of companies, their operations, and organization during his first tour of companies in Japan in 1977. This led to John learning about lean while working for 11 years with Toyota in Japan and the United States, helping that company transfer production, engineering, and management systems from Japan to its overseas affiliates and suppliers. During his seven-year stay at Toyota’s headquarters, he became the company’s first American “kacho” (manager) in Japan. In the United States, John became a part of Toyota’s North American engineering and R&D center in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1991, a s general manager of administration and strategic planning. His last position with Toyota was as senior American manager with the Toyota Supplier Support Center in Lexington, Kentucky, the company’s organization to assist the efforts of North American companies to implement TPS.

This real-world experience in implementing lean principles throughout an organization gives him extraordinary insight into the challenges faced by those who are interested in lean enterprises. As co-author of Learning to See,John helped introduce value-stream mapping as a tool for lean practitioners; with Managing to Learn, he similarly is taking lean practitioners into new territory, that of working with and leading with A3’s.

John now spends his time researching and developing lean principles with Jim Womack, Dan Jones, and José Ferro as a senior adviser in the Lean Enterprise Institute. He is the former director of the University of Michigan, Japan Technological Management Program, and currently heads two consulting groups—the Lean Transformations Group, LLC and the TWI N etwork, Inc. John is recognized as a true sensei who enthusiastically shares his knowledge and insights within the lean community and with those who would not have made the leap.


“This may be the first book that actually helps outsiders connect the dots and get a glimpse into how Toyota ticks.” “As Shook shows, Toyota embeds the philosophy in day-to-day decision making and management tools such as the A3 so that staff have no choice but to learn it in a way they never forget.”
From the Financial Times, ( By Alan Mitchell, Published: November 27, 2008

“This book is a nice blend of experience, practical how-to and provides a fair amount of ‘pulling back the curtain’ on Toyota’s management and problem solving methods and philosophy.” 
From the Training Within Industry (TWI) blog

“I’ve used A3s in process improvement projects but I’ve never had the privilege of learning how to use an A3 from a master teacher—a sensei—and I suspect the same is true for most of you. This book, by Toyota veteran and Learning to See author John Shook, is as close as most of us will ever get to learning directly from the master.”
From Tom Southworth’s Lean Printing blog

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Additional information

Weight 0.61 kg

Lean Enterprise Institute