MIT Sloan Mgt. Rev., Vol. 50, Summer 2009 at 30-31, gives an example of Toyota Motor Corp.’s method to achieve operational learning. Called the A3, because it fits on one sheet of paper of that size, it typically has a sequence of boxes arrayed in a template. Inside the boxes the A3’s author completes the following: “(1) establish the business context and importance of a specific problem or issue; (2) describe the current conditions of the problem; (3) identify the desired outcome; (4) analyze the situation to establish causality; (5) propose countermeasures; (6) prescribe an action plan for getting it done; and (7) map out the follow-up process.”
The paper is a means to an end. “The ultimate goal of A3s is not just to solve the problem at hand, but to make the process of problem solving transparent and teachable in a manner that creates an organization full of thinking, learning problem solvers. In this way, the A3 management process powerfully embodies the essence of operational learning.”
A tool such as A3 and its associated discipline can help many in-house efforts to solve a problem. More important than the template is the mind set that keeps asking questions to get to root causes.