The A3 Lean Management and Leadership Thought Process

  • William C. Schwagerman (Fike Corporation)
  • Jeffrey M. Ulmer (University of Central Missouri)


This research paper will review the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle of process improvement and how the PDCA cycle is integrated into the Toyota Motor Company’s business practices. The paper will also examine the A3 problem-solving tool and how that tool is embedded in the Toyota culture to promote further learning and continuous improvement. This continuous improvement methodology is an employee-driven, fact-based culture assisted by the appropriate training and mentoring in PDCA, Toyota Business Practices (TBP), and A3. The Toyota Motor Company has consistently rated well in production efficiency, design, and sales over the last several decades; much of the success has been attributed to the company’s culture. Many years of in-plant research, subsequent books, seminars, and other educational resources about Toyota’s methods have assisted companies, but have not yielded the same level of success found at Toyota. It’s become ever more evident that it’s not just about the lean tools such as 5S, Value-Stream Mapping (VSM), Kaizen, and Kanban, but also company culture, the people, how they are taught, and how they learn. These factors lead to behavior patterns which are unique, yet seemingly unattainable and not explained in company documents. The way Toyota leads and manages its people is at the heart of Toyota’s success. There is a management tool that helps all employees learn how to learn for optimum benefit. The PDCA-based tool aligned with the TBP called the A3 problem solving process instills continuous improvement. This is accomplished through a variety of lean methods and by establishing employee and organizational habits which become an inherent process of continuous improvement. It creates a culture of employee engagement, empowerment, and embedded PDCA thinking among employees. This is something Toyota has developed and mastered over several decades, and continues to do in their never-ending pursuit of continuous improvement.

Keywords: leadership, lean manufacturing/Six Sigma, management, manufacturing, quality

How to Cite:

Schwagerman, W. C. & Ulmer, J. M., (2013) “The A3 Lean Management and Leadership Thought Process”, The Journal of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering 29(4).

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Published on
10 Jan 2013