John Shook’s experience shows just how important problemsolving is at Toyota — it comes before any other job skill for the graduate intake.
When I joined Toyota in Toyota City (where for a time I was the only American) in late 1983, every newly hired college graduate employee began learning his job by being coached through the A3 creation process. The new employee would arrive at his new desk to find waiting for him a problem, a mentor, and a process to learn for solving that problem. The entire process was structured around PDCA and captured in the A3.
The problem awaiting the newcomer had been determined by his manager and scoped out by the mentor the manager assigned. The new employee would begin solving the problem by first understanding the situation. He would define the problem, analyze it, investigate its causes, brainstorm potential countermeasures, evaluate those solutions, and then propose — i.e. “sell” his recommended countermeasure, which would often involve a simple trial or small experiment. The selling, however, is an inclusive process in which the owner continually improves the content and accuracy of the A3 report as a result of obtaining greater input, and as a result, agreement and support from others.
As an example, my work team used the A3 process to solve a simple office problem. The story is common to anyone who has worked in an office and encountered the question, “Where’s the damned file?” The tools the team used were unremarkable. What was remarkable was the effort and discipline the team put into such a mundane problem. Our team did get some benefit from an improved ability to find the right information at the right time, the essential office problem. But, more importantly and fundamentally, our team was training itself. By learning to apply the problem solving tools in this situation, all the team members learned how to apply them in other situations and they deepened their own thinking skills which they can apply to every issue they encounter, every day.
Originally posted on my Martin Burns: PM PoV Posterous blog at http://writing.easyweb.co.uk/now-thats-how-to-make-problemsolving-ubiquito