Lean Six Sigma

Learn with Your A3 0

Matt Wrye, a Lean Implementer that has a passion for continuous learning was my guest on the Business901 podcast, Developing a Learning A3 and the transcription, Developing a Learning A3 Transcription. We discussed using the tool of A3 for their learning reports. Below are several formats for your use. I recommend viewing one before reading the transcript or during the listening of the podcast.

Learning A3 Example PDF Learning A3 Blank Template PDF Learning A3 Blank Excel Template

About Matt Wyre: Matt is the author of the popular blog “Beyond Lean,” which centers on evolving leadership and changing business.

Certainly in these days of information overload and web analytics we have more information than ever before to make our decisions with. I believe that this data is extremely important and needed to manage your company and your marketing. This data along with most financial data is all past tense. It tells a little of what will happen in the future or with our next marketing campaign per say. This data more importantly needs to be interpreted correctly and that relies on the basis of being a good problem solver. We think of themselves as the creative, free spirit and intuitive type. Most people are quite comfortable with, if not proud of their ability to analyze and solve problems. They generally do well at it or maybe they just adapt well to the outcomes that are driven by them.

The fact is that we error in our problem solving more often than we care to admit. We rely on trial and error as the most practical and effective means of problem solving. It has been that way since the beginning of time. Success is building on failures. You have to leave someone fail to learn. But how many of these are a result of bad luck or poor analysis.

The instinctive type approach is surprisingly rather closed to alternatives. As a result the outcome is frequently flawed or less effective than a structured approach. In The Thinker’s Toolkit: 14 Powerful Techniques for Problem Solving book outlines six steps of the problem with intuitive problem solving:

  • We commonly begin our analysis of a problem by formulating our conclusions; we thus start at what should be the end of the analytic process.
  • Our analysis usually focuses on the solution which we intuitively favor; we therefore give inadequate attention to alternative solutions.
  • The solution we intuitively favor is more often than not the first one that seems satisfactory.
  • We tend to confuse “discussing/thinking hard” about a problem with “analyzing” it (these2 activities are not at all the same).
  • We focus on the substance (evidence, arguments, and conclusions) and not on the process of our analysts.
  • Most people are functionally illiterate when it comes to structuring their analysis.

If people have not learned and understood problem solving techniques, they cannot formulate a reasonable conclusion. It is a guess and a reaction based simply on intuition.

Marketing with A3 is my attempt to bring a problem solving methodology to sales and marketing. The book itself will not spawn a lean transformation or a significant culture change within your company. It is a workbook, that I would use to introduce and guide me through the A3 process. It provides a background on A3, explanation of terms and many of the tools of A3, questions that will facilitate discussion of each step in the A3, blank forms and ten sample A3s for reference. The samples included are:

  1. Direct Marketing Inbound and Outbound Calls
  2. Training Program Outline
  3. Sales Communication on a Promotion
  4. Gap Analysis of an Annual Advertising Campaign
  5. Churn Rate Gap Analysis
  6. Increasing Consulting bookings
  7. Gaining Control of Internal Costing structure
  8. Business Plan Analysis for Industrial Segment
  9. Increase in Workshop Attendance
  10. Increase in ROI of present Marketing Activities

Sales and Marketing not only needs to improve but must improve their problem solving skills. The book, Marketing with A3 is the introduction needed. It enables sales and marketing to use the Lean tool of A3 as a template or structured approach for their strategies and tactics. It will also demonstrate meaningful and measurable results of their activities. You will enter meetings armed with facts and profound knowledge of sales and marketing efforts. As a result, you will engage in more meaningful conversations. It will require a different approach. The dialogue is sometimes not easy. But seldom is any improvement.

Using a structured approach, such as the Lean thinking tool of A3, the mind remains open, enabling one to examine each element of the decision or problem separately or systematically, and sufficiently, ensuring that all alternatives are considered. The outcome is almost always more comprehensive and more effective than the instinctive approach.

Begin the journey with an A3

Marketing with A3 is the author’s attempt to improve the problem-solving process of sales and marketing. Using A3 in the Marketing process will provide you a standard method of developing and creating your marketing programs. It will recap the thoughts, efforts and actions that take place for a particular campaign, such as advertising or public relations or even a launch. The tools are explained and examples are given.

The important part is that you will learn how to format your A3 report in any way that most effectively communicates your story to your team and others. An A3 report can really highlight the value that marketing supplies.The book contains ten A3 reports from five contributors.

This is not a strategy book. The book is designed to help you create and utilize A3 at a tactical level in a sales and marketing department.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Marketing with A3 Introduction

Chapter 2: Transforming to Marketing with A3s

Chapter 3: What is an A3?

Chapter 4: Using A3 in your Marketing Process

Chapter 5: Types of A3

Chapter 6: Description of the Components of A3

Chapter 7: Tools used in A3

Resources, Contributors

Marketing with Lean Series

Appendix A: A3 Templates

Appendix B: A3 Examples


A Lesson in Problem Solving 0

A Lesson in Problem Solving: Go back to school for a second, maybe even as far back as grade school, and think about solving mathematical word problems. Remember with word problems, each problem described a situation that involved numerical relationships. However, the situation and those relationships first had to be interpreted and understood. Then it was really just a matter of performing simple arithmetic computations to get the answer. But, how good were you at it?

Many of the computations were simple, and the use of algebra or formulas was not even required. The problem required that you understood and precisely spelled out the situation that was being described. Once a problem was set up properly in arithmetic, it was typically very easy. Here’s a takeoff for solving math word problems that could easily be applied to solving your customers’ problems:

  1. First things first, don’t try to do it alone. Do your analysis with a partner, i.e., the customer. This is a joint effort, so blasting your message in the hope that someone will understand it does not work.
  2. Try to do all of your thinking as part of a conversation. Communicate all of your thoughts, decisions, analysis, and conclusions. Communicate how you’re starting the problem, questions you’re asking yourself, steps you’re taking to break the problem into parts, conclusions you are drawing —everything. If you perform any mental operations, even translating an unfamiliar word or visualizing a picture of a relationship, communicate these operations. Letting each other know what you’re thinking is imperative.
  3. Use a step-by-step analytical procedure. Use the techniques that good problem solvers use, and break a problem into parts. Work one part accurately and then move on to the next part. Translate unfamiliar phrases into your own words and/or visualize or make diagrams of the relationships presented verbally. Simplify problems by substituting easier numbers, making a table of successive computations or referring to an earlier problem.
  4. Be extremely accurate. Continually check your thinking. Your thoughts should drive questions like: Is that entirely correct? Is that completely accurate? Give yourself sufficient time to address all parts of the problem. Never just give up on the problem to get a quick answer. Always try to reason the problem out.

While your customer is working through the problem, keep checking the accuracy so that you will learn to think with more precision and thoroughness. In addition, in your own mind contrast the methods with theway the problem was attacked.

  1. How might you break the problem downmore completely into smaller problems?
  2. What other steps might you take?
  3. How might you visualize or use diagrams or relationships to make it more effective?
  4. Would you work more carefully?

In other words, try to imagine ways in which you might attack the problem more effectively.

Tools used in A3

The use of statistical methods is essential to minimize confusion and to explain your story accurately in an A3. Statistics help us to understand the processes, gain control, and improve them. Not to say statistical techniques are simple, but the graphical presentation is when done correctly. Always remember your audience when creating a diagram, chart or graph. The following is an outline of some of the methods which are used in A3s. Since the cause and effect is so common, I have added a bit more description.

  1. Flow Chart. This is a graphical method of documenting a process. It is a diagram that shows the sequential steps of a process or of a work flow that goes into creating a product or service. The justification of flow charts is that in order to improve a process, one needs first to understand it.
  2. Pareto Chart. This is a commonly used graphical technique in which events to be analyzed are named. The incidents are counted by name: the events are ranked by frequency in a bar chart in ascending sequence. Pareto analysis applies the 80/20 rule. An example of this is when 20% of an organization’s customers account for 80% of the revenue, the company focuses on the 20%.
  3. Run Chart. A run chart is a technique that graphs data points in chronological order to illustrate trends of a characteristic being measured in order to assign a potential cause rather than random variation.
  4. Histogram. A histogram is a graphical description of measured values organized according to the frequency or relative frequency of occurrence. It also provides the average and variation.
  5. Scatter Diagram. A scatter diagram is a graph designed to show where there is a relationship between two variables or changing factors.
  6. Control Chart. A control chart is a statistical method for distinguishing between special and common variations exhibited by processes. It is a run chart with statistically determined upper and lower limits drawn on either side of the process averages.
  7. Cause-and-Effect Diagram: One of the Lean tools used to determine cause and effect is the Fishbone diagram, also known as the Cause-and-Effect diagram or Ishikawa diagram. It identifies and explores on a single chart the “five whys” technique. The aim is to work down through the causes to identify basic root causes of a problem by asking the question “Why?” five times. It appears very simple but the results are outstanding. As a result, it is used very often and should be mastered. Why would you use it?
  • Allows various categories of causes to be explored.
  • Encourages creativity through a brainstorming process.
  • Provides a visual image of the problem and potential categories of causes
  • Analyzes complex problems that seem to have many interrelated causes

One of the most important aspects of the “five whys” approach is that the REAL root cause should point toward a process. You will observe that the process is not working well or that the process does not even exist. The Business901 podcast that featured Tracey Richardson and her discussion on Problem Solving was one of my top podcasts in 2010. One of the topics we covered was the “five whys” process. I asked this question:

Joe: One of the great tools of Lean is the “Five Whys” to get to the root cause. Can you explain why you don’t use three whys, two whys, or seven whys? I mean, how did they come up with the five whys and what’s that really mean?

Tracey: Right. And it’s funny you say that because when I first started in my career at Toyota, everybody was like; “You got to have five whys!” My first question was, “Well, what if it’s only two or what if it’s three? What if you start asking too many times?” So that was one of my first questions, too, and how it was explained to me is that it’s not about five or two or 10. It’s about the thought process behind your thinking. Are you asking why? Do you need to go deeper? Do you need to go even deeper when you’re asking why?

Because most of the time symptoms are at the surface, and the root cause is normally below the surface. That’s getting into the design of the work, into the process, into the specific standardized work steps that folks are doing out there on a daily basis.

Continuing to ask why allows you to get deeper, rather than just “Oh, I’ve got to solve this today. I’ve got to hurry up and get the answer so I can make my boss happy.” That “five whys” allows you to get into the work, and that’s where the answers are, in that work.

I’ve had many A3s, hundreds of A3s, and they will vary. I might have only two whys, where I get down to the actual root cause by just asking twice. Or I’ve got examples where I’ve had 10 and you need to be aware that if you ask “why?” too many times, it changes the scope of the problem. I have several examples in class and one of them kind of talks about the alarm clock going off. I can ask why did the alarm go off? Well, the power went out. Why did the power go out? Well, there was a storm. Why was there a storm? If you keep asking why, you’re getting into things that you can’t control.

We try to say OK, where is it within the “why” chain that I can control that an effective countermeasure will address that root cause and all the symptoms or all the whys up the chain lead me back to the problem? You don’t want to go too far, because again it gets you out of the control and it changes the scope of the problem. Because if you get into asking about storms and the clouds not liking each other up in the atmosphere, then you’re counter measuring something that has nothing to do with your problem. That’s when you do the “why” test down and the “therefore” test back up through the chain to establish that cause-and-effect relationship.

Project Management: I have been a big fan of the The One-Page Project Manager for many years. In fact, the author Clark Campbell reminded me in a recent phone call that I was the first one to write a review on the first book. Since then, he has added two more books to the collection:

I have not read the OPPM for IT but of course have the first one and the latter which is the OPPM for use with an A3. If you are familiar with an A3, I would recommend the original OPPM as you will find the A3 material rather basic. If you are not familiar with A3 the description of the process is quite good in the book but it does not go into the tools used to construct the A3 in much depth. The One Page Project Manager is not meant to replace a full blown project management system. It helps you identify and communicate the essential details of a project.

I think the OPPM completes the job and is a great companion to Lean and especially A3s. I utilize the OPPM with A3s slightly different than the book describes. I use the entire back side of the A3 for the OPPM. I take advantage of a little artistic interpretation of what constitutes one page. Though I have not read the OPPM for IT, I would assume from reading the Table of Contents it does not address agile practices. However, since it is basically a communication and reporting tool, it may be an ideal bridge between agile teams and management. Most managers are familiar with the Gantt style and no so much with burn charts. Using the OPPM to report progress may be an ideal crossover. I have certainly stretched the use of OPPM and managed some rather in-depth and lengthy projects with it. In fact one such project I actually reconfigured the Excel sheet to hold over 100 tasks. It is a tool that should be in anyone’s toolbox.

Below are some simple guidelines on how to develop an entertaining A3 process.

  1. Define the problem: What is the first thing you learned in 5th grade about writing a story? You have to have a hook! Appeal to the emotions of your audience!
  2. Measure: Your metrics must clearly define the problem and visually display it. Do not limit yourself to simple metrics; maybe pin the defect or the cause on the wall. If a failure causes a catastrophic condition, display visually what that means.
  3. Analyze: Create some drama in analyzing the problem. A typical process here would be identifying the few metrics that are vital. Create some drama in finding the root cause. Think about what may happen if you don’t find the real problem.
  4. Implement: We have taken the story to the critical stage; there has to be a solution. This is where everyone wants to jump in and help. We are all problem solvers but are we all MacGyvers? We have to find the best answer that addresses the root cause and is measurable. Who will be the hero?
  5. Control: Now is the time in the story that the problem is solved and life goes on happily ever after. Can you depict that in your storyboard? Can you show the results that prove this? Did you reach the other side of the rainbow?

Your A3 should not be a a dry report but an active document that truly makes your project come alive! Storyboarding has become a popular way of transferring the details of a Six Sigma project to a graphical representation. Very much like your child’s fifth grade science fair project. The purpose of course it gives the Six Sigma team a way to summarize their efforts and let other people outside of the team understand their efforts. On the Lean side, I think that is why A3 reporting has become so popular. It is a graphical way of displaying the project. Though we are all not visual learners the majority of us find learning by stories and pictures and diagram much easier.

“The first storyboards were originated in the Disney animation studios in the 1930’s. According to Walt Disney, the storyboard was invented by Web Smith, an animator and one the first story men at the studio. When Web planned a story, he would draw it instead of describing the action in words. At first he simply spread the drawings out over the floor of his office, but soon graduated to pinning them in order on to the walls. In this way, the unfolding story gains the valuable visual dimension. According to legend, Walt was none too happy with the innovation. He had just redecorated the offices and the marred walls in Webb’s office stuck out like a sore thumb. But Walt also recognized the order imposed by the posted drawings and the ease with which the entire feature could be analyzed and manipulated. So he ordered 4? x 8? corkboards and the storyboard was born.

Soon, every Disney cartoon for so life on the storyboard, and the board themselves moved to new departments as the project progressed. The story men would pitch their ideas to Walt on storyboard, color and sound were both added using the storyboard as reference point, etc. When Walt hijacked the studios innovators to design the attractions for Disney land, they brought the storyboard along with them. And today, it has evolved into a standard technique among the Imagineers.”

I think there should be a happy medium somewhere between the Disney storyboard and the Six Sigma storyboard. However, if you error, error toward the Disney side.

As many of you already know, the PowerPoint presentation was developed by engineers for exactly the same reason that most develop a Six Sigma storyboard, to tell the story of a project. However, the main purpose of a storyboard is to tell others outside of the team the story and maybe more importantly to depict to others what is going on inside the project as it is unfolding. Try hanging your A3s in the hallway or cafeteria much like the trophy cases in a school. You may be surprised on the amount of activity and comments that it may stimulate. Ask for comments by putting post it notes next to the storyboard. Get people engaged in the planning process not just at the end.

You may create the typical PowerPoint utilizing SIPOC, VOC, House of Quality and other Six Sigma or Lean Tools. If you are on the team ask yourself, how will you get others engaged? Consider your audience, the storyboard is not about you it is about them.


Sample A3s

Submitted by: Joe Dager
Website: http://business901.com
Email: jtdager@business901.com
Twitter: @business901

Submitted by: Tracey Richardson
Website: http://teachinglean.com
Email: tracey@teachingleaninc.com
Twitter: @thetoyotagal

Submitted by: Mike Osterling
Website: Osterling Consulting
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/mikeosterling

Using an A3 for Special Causes – Lean for Haiti

View a PDF Version of this A3

Submitted by: Russell Maroni and Mark Graban (Lean Blog)
Website: Lean for Haiti

A3 Sales Call Sheet

Lean Marketing House – A3 Layout

Submitted by: Joe Dager
Website: http://business901.com
Email: jtdager@business901.com
Twitter: @business901

The Right Side of the A3 0

Description of the Components of the A3


Identify countermeasure(s) to eliminate the root cause(s): we either get paralyzed by analysis or we jump to this point, offering solutions too quickly. If the problem is well-defined and the root cause is verified then the appropriate countermeasures are seldom difficult. This is where if you walk away saying “I knew that” it’s not that bad a situation. Countermeasures are the changes to be made to the processes by addressing root cause. They should move the organization towards reducing the specified gap.

  1. Why waste everyone’s time: Some may have been thinking that we have been wasting our
    1. time. But changing the process without the data is cause for failure. You have heard it time and time again, JUST DO IT! We have been trained that way, action is accomplishment. But the wrong action may accomplish little or drive you deeper into a hole. Without the data from the previous steps, you will not be able to make the effective and dramatic improvements that you desire. Seek 200% process improvements and cost reductions of half! If you have defined, measured, and analyzed, if nothing else you are one smart cookie. More importantly, if your team has survived, this is the stage where they will come back together and the excitement can be re-kindled. Let’s put it all into action: In the improve stage, we must find and implement solutions that will eliminate the cause of problems. We typically go through a five-step process.
      1. Generate ideas
      2. Refine ideas
      3. Select a solution
      4. Test
      5. Implement

    I have a tendency to use two different tools at this point, an impact/effort matrix and a tree diagram. As we are generating ideas, we are refining ideas. If we can place the ideas in the impact/effort matrix it simplifies the solution process. So, after you are done brainstorming using the famous Post-It notes method, just post the notes into their appropriate squares, as you see fit. You may even segment them in the squares themselves as you are reviewing them. Ask yourself “Is this easier to do than that?” Or “Will this have minimum impact from a customer standpoint”. It is even great to have an online focus group of customers, operations, sales, etc., who are willing to participate and pick which solutions will have the greatest impact.

    So let’s say we have narrowed our solutions and we have two or three really good ideas but have difficulty deciding on which one to test. A tree diagram is what I use. The reason I wait to this stage is that I do not want to limit any ideas at the beginning. Using the tree diagram allows me to expand on each idea and drill down on how difficult it will be to implement and the exact strategies and tactics and even resources that may be needed.

    Testing follows a project planning guideline that is somewhat beyond the scope of this blog post, but it is a mini-project in itself with one more important ingredient. Ask yourself two questions: “Did we get the results we wanted?” and “Did we follow the procedures outline?” Don’t fall so in love with your idea that you compromise the results.

    After the testing, we are actually ready to implement, except we have to put some controls in for stability of the process! Don’t settle for routine improvements. If you want your creative juices to flow, push yourself to eliminate and make radical improvement of 200% or more. Seek cost reductions of half or more. Go for it!

  2. Create a Criteria Matrix to evaluate countermeasure(s): A criteria matrix is a tool used to choose among several possible items that need to be weighed against several key factors. It promotes the use of data and facts to facilitate decision making. A matrix is usually nothing more than a table with specifications written in rows and then the weights of those rows depicted in numbers by the data down.
  3. Predict short- and long-term results of each countermeasure: They differ! You must weigh the long-term effects versus short-term. New commission structures established for short-term gains may be very down the road. You may set an expectation either internally or externally (which is more difficult to control) with short-term thinking.
  4. Gain team consensus, select countermeasure(s) and document why: You have all this data in front of you and you are ready to act. Acting as a team to move forward is imperative. Reach consensus and select which countermeasures to act on and give the business reason for doing so. There is no better way to reach consensus than for everyone to understand why you are doing it. At this point it should be obvious, and if it is, document it. If it is not, find out why it is not… It sounds really simple but ambiguity here when there is absolutely no reason for it will reduce the clarity needed to carry out and implement the plan.

Future State

  1. What does the customer really need: Identifying the CTQs is very important to us, as is working on the items that provide value to the customer. If a customer does not value the action, why would you do it? Anytime it comes to prioritization, people will have a tendency to pick the low-hanging fruit. Why not prioritize by the importance the customer sees and by the most profitable segment of your business? This will make a greater impact in your efforts and achieve the greatest results.
  2. How often will we check our performance to customer needs: What happens if before you complete this project your competitor comes out with a new gadget that makes yours obsolete? Will that cause you to change your way of thinking? Certainly! Set parameters on how often metrics need to be looked at. One of the ways to decide this is by determining how often you are going to use the data. If you are only going to react to it once a month, the collection could be continuous but continuous accessibility may not be needed.
  3. Which steps create value and which steps are waste: In a typical value stream it is important to understand value-added and non-value-added steps. It will help you prioritize the work and also, discovering that you are working on a step that is not a priority or that a customer deems foolish is, well, not a good use of your time. However, some non-value-added steps from a customer perspective may add value to your organization. The question still might be “Why we are doing it?” but that probably is beyond the scope of your A3 at this point and time.
  4. How can we flow work with fewer interruptions: One item that we always need to consider is hand-offs, moving from one stage to the next. “The more hand-offs, the more room for errors” is a pretty good rule of thumb. “Continuous delivery, continuous work” used to be the old axiom for success. Seldom is that possible but the flow of work to the customer on a continuous state would be very good collaboration, so don’t hesitate to consider looking for ways to do that.
  5. How do we control work between interruptions, and how will work be triggered and prioritized: Building a future state for work can be a tricky process. This work needs to be identified and prioritized. Work standing still is not a bad thing if it does not affect the overall flow of the project… This is where Kanban can be a very effective tool.


  1. Gain team consensus on execution plan (What, Who, Where, When); Make an Excel spreadsheet and carry out the plan. Define your 4 Ws map and get on with it. If you leave blanks in this map, there probably will be blanks in the execution process of it. I like to use the one-page project manager (1PPM) which is an excellent reporting form to use in conjunction with the A3. The author, Clarke Clifford, has even written a book about using the 1PPM with A3s. I sometimes embed the 1PPM in the electronic A3 or print them out on an A3 sheet on the back of the A3 (I know that is cheating) so that the entire process can be shown.
  2. Have task, timelines, owners, costs, and reports been assigned: This is basic project management. If they have not been assigned individually or as part of a team effort, they will not get done and as a result may cause unneeded complications at a later date or even threaten completion of the project.
  3. Have daily/weekly stand-up meetings been scheduled: I love stand-up meetings even with my virtual clients when I use Skype. Just saying good morning and hearing what each of us will be working on today makes for great community and maintaining connections. You may not be included in each other’s plans that day and you may say “the next time we need to talk it’s on a certain day” but take advantage of it so that the relationship can be maintained. Without communication, projects wander off course and the urgency leaves.
  4. Have control points been well-defined: Control points are touch points within your organization to determine how well things are going. They can help determine whether all the goals within a stage have been achieved successfully and whether the project can progress to the next stage.A control point review help determine whether all the goals within each stage have been achieved successfully and whether the project can progress to the next stage. Many reviews fail due to lack of preparation. If you are going to have a control point review, prepare for it. This should include a minimum of a check sheet, a milestone list, deliverable documents, etc., for review. This could even be an automated process that the customer knowingly or even unknowingly completes.


  1. Was the activity/problem a success: Sing your praise! One of the main purposes of using A3 in marketing is that we start providing quantified and measured data to others.
  2. Was the gap closed according to the target metrics: Demonstrate the difference in the gap that you identified. This is what the entire process was about. It may be fine to talk about everything else that may have resulted from the process, but the first topics addressed should be “Was the target metric used”, “Did you close the gap”, and “By how much?”
  3. Did you standardize the new process or procedures: This is particularly important if you are not closing the entire process out at this stage. If this process is going to be continued or if this process was improved, then it should be standardized so that it becomes part of the regular routine. When you start a continuous improvement process such as Lean or Six Sigma, many times you will get that initial surge and after some additional hard work, you might feel that you have developed a good process for continuous improvement. You’re happy and the employees are happy and things could not be better! Then it stops…why? Our basic instinct is that we have a tendency to keep things as they are even if they aren’t very good. We resist all change. If you have been doing something one way for 20 years, a 60-day improvement is minuscule in comparison. I was always taught when training bird dogs that once a habit is created it takes at least twice as long to break it. There are exceptions if a traumatic or an extraordinary circumstance takes place but for the most part it takes time. If an organizational culture change incurs large resistance, it may be because it is a really terrible idea or a really good idea. Small incremental improvements meet the least amount of resistance and are a much easier way to gain acceptance.
  4. Did you reflect and note successes and failures of process chosen? This is the time you improve on how you do the A3 process. This is not about the problem you solved but the process you used in solving the problem. Continuous improvement (CI) is also about improving the way you utilized A3 and what you must do to improve the way you manage the process of improvement. Very important and also suggest to the standard process should be used as the result of this. CI is an important part of all aspects of your business. Team improvement, team communications do not improve with an effort to improve them.
  5. Create a simple review process of the A3:
    • The Problem. Was the problem well enough defined? Were you able to find the point of concern and root cause as a result?
    • The Application. Once your organization decided to use A3 and transform its processes, how did you go about doing it? What were the first steps you took? Was it an organization-wide adoption or just on the team level? Did you use training or tools?
    • The Solution. What was the result? Can you quantify the improvements that the A3 process helped realize?
    • Assembly: Was the assembly simple or time-consuming to create?
    • Fun Factor: Did team members and others like it? Did it provide buzz or word of mouth as a result? How far did it extend itself from its natural boundaries?
    • Educational Factor: Is it educational? Does it encourage other discussion?
    • Novelty Factor: Was it unique? Seen before? Is it enjoyable? Have other teams been able to use your A3 to help in other areas?
  6. Did you communicate with others on this performance: A true knowledge and continuous improvement culture does not exist unless successes and failures are shared. This must become a standard part of the way you do business. Overcoming this gap is very important because this is a key Lean term in respect of people. Many times people don’t share because they are not sure how it will get interpreted. Lean makes the case to find problems with the process, not the people. This is the ultimate goal. If your people are afraid of sharing, then you will have difficulty operating in the collaborative culture that exists today. Collaboration is what is creating the competitive advantage for most organizations and this must start with assigning blame within your organization before success can be realized outside the organization. Every team member should be able to tell the story of the A3. Think of the A3 as a simple storytelling process. Using the A3 as a backdrop, you walk through the process of defining the problem, the overall vision of the process, highlighting the gaps you hope to close, the critical issues you need to address to do this, the implementation, and the follow up.
  7. Are there any unresolved issues remaining and what happens to them: It is ok to have unresolved issues. They may just be issues that were unresolved because there was not enough value in doing them at the time or they may have been too far off in the distant future and beyond the scope of this project. There should be a type of closure to the A3 and those unresolved issues should be noted and if necessary referred through proper channels. What is important is that they are noted and that there is a way for the appropriate people to decide whether or not to act. What happens to them should just be part of the report.
  8. Can gains be sustained without further action: What is the sense in all the effort if it is just going to return to the present? One of the biggest reasons for failures is the hand-offs between different projects, teams or even stages in marketing. All that may be needed is a simple tickle file for this A3 to be reviewed in 90 days. It may require documentation to move the process to another team or department. If you want your sales and marketing to improve, this area should be addressed.

A3 Problem Solving Example (cont.) – Right Side

Countermeasures: Countermeasures are the actions steps you are considering. This is a good time to start brainstorming and then organizing your thought process. Pick out the best ideas and create a criteria matrix to evaluate the ideas. In our example below we selected seven countermeasures and evaluated them.

We chose 4 of the 7 to implement: Telephone Solicitations, Purchase Database (mail and phone numbers), Advertise in Hospital Newsletters and Direct Mail in support of solicitations and follow-up. The implementation plan started 120 days prior to the workshop. Implementation: Bill worked out a payment plan with the call center if they met their targets, which would mean that we would meet our gap of 30%, they would receive a bonus of an additional $800 bringing their total to $4,000. On the other hand if we did not reach 15% of our gap that could be directly attributed to them our payment would be $2,500 versus the $3,200.

Follow up:

  • We failed to meet our goal of 30% but came very close at a 25% increase in attendance.
  • Though we had high hopes for the call center, we felt that their efforts fell short and required us to make direct phone calls and follow ups after their initial conversations and our follow-up mailings. We ended up paying them $3,000
  • The added increases in participants were primarily from the healthcare related fields. The other areas still stayed sluggish and in fact may have even dropped slightly.
  • The local advertising that Jennifer created proved to be an excellent source of leads. We felt that a dedicated phone line in the future with the option of talking to a live person or requesting information through automation may assist us in the future.
  • Lack of testimonials from like professionals would have helped us especially from leaders in the healthcare field. We did gather a few at the conference to assist us in future workshops.
  • As a result of this A3, we recommended and received approval to update all databases.

Bonus Material: Jamie Flinchbaugh is the co-author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean: Lessons from the Road and co-founder and partner of the Lean Learning Center. The JamieFlinchbaugh.com blog is a frequent stop of mine and many other lean practitioners. Jamie says about control points:

Ever have the strange feeling that something big is wrong, but you don’t know what it is? This common disease is hereditary in one species: the manager. Most managers spend too much time firefighting. One of their biggest fears is that there may be larger fires they don’t know about. Different managers deal with it in different ways. Some use “management by walking around” to look for signs that something isn’t right. Others insist on knowing every detail instantly. If they know everything, then there can be no hidden problems.

Managing by control points is the only cure. Control points are the variables that indicate what is really going on in the organization.

Start the process of managing control points by identifying the points you already have. There are two dimensions to consider. First, determine how proactively you can manage the control point. Can you be predictive or just reactive? Next, determine if the control point can be managed manually or automatically. If a person is needed to find a problem, it’s a manual control point. If the problem puts its hand in the air and says, “Here I am,” it can be managed automatically.

Podcast: Can Control Points add Value in Lean?   eBook: Using Control Points to Manage in Lean

Left Side of the A3 or the Planning Process 0

We will spend this section on the left side of the A3 or the planning process.

Description of the Components of the A3

Team: The team selection is very important in developing A3s. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of collaboration and building a team. You should go to great lengths to find people who are interested in working in a “network” type environment in solving problems, building, and supporting each other.

Typical you must start building a team from a functional perspective. You have to have the technical expertise on hand when problem solving. Do you have someone from IT or HR that may be needed?

Time is another important aspect that needs to be considered. You do not want to create a team if only half the participants can be there. Geographic, psychographic, and all these types of parameters need to be considered, the same as you would do for any other type of project.

Collaboration is critical to the process of generating ideas and problems in any organization. When you review the principles of Kaizen and Agile, your ability to succeed really comes down to how good a team you put together.

Taking a broader stroke may not be in the definition of the project; when you develop a current state, check back to see if you have all the team members you need to solve the problem. The A3 process does not demand that once your team is set it does not change. It may have to. However, the A3 is the glue. It is what keeps the team focused and allows others to pick up where they left off or pick up in the middle of the project.


  1. Date: Date your project and create an estimated time. From the start date and estimated finish date, people looking at the A3 can get an immediate sense of scope or urgency. Saying “Nov 2010 to Jun 2011″ is quite different from saying “Nov 1st to Nov 15th, 2010″. It denotes a different sense of urgency surrounding the amount of work in the planning and tasks involve.
  2. Control #: It is great to create a filing system for your A3 reports even in your computer. You can file them by date or activity such as advertising, PR, and product launch or by individual products. However, I recommend coding them so that they can be sorted by your criteria and then using shortcuts in the different files. If they are not done electronically, scan them or take a picture of them and put them in a file. It will be help locate them later and will capture the knowledge for sharing, one of the reasons for creating them in the first place.
  3. Title/Theme: State whether it was created for status, proposal or problem solving. Let someone pick it up and understand immediately the purpose and what you are trying to create. Many Scrum teams have adopted the user story template developed by Mike Cohn, which identifies who the end user is, what the end user wants, and why, in a single sentence. This model of the user story is most often written like this: “As a [end user role], I want [the desire] so that [the rationale]. In Scrum, work is expressed in the backlog as user stories. A team may write its user stories in a number of ways as long as they are written from the perspective of the end user. Put another way, team members are encouraged to think of their work from the perspective of who will use it, hence “user” story.
  4. What Changes or Improvements are you talking about: After someone knows it is a problem-solving tool or a proposal A3, the next thing that they will be looking for is why are we here? What changes need to be made? This is not saying the problem will be defined entirely, it is just stating what we came to the table to discuss. Think about this as being the MVF, the minimum viable feature that is used in software. This will be modified and adjusted, but defining too clearly here may limit what you really need to address. What are we after? Quantify, if possible.
  5. Is the topic relevant to all team members: After you have seen what brought you to the table, take time to look around it. Do you really need everyone? Is it relevant to everyone? Are people missing that need to be there and is everyone willing to participate?


  1. Why is this important: You must demonstrate why change is needed. It is important to address the business reason that we are doing this. Many people look at “improvement for the sake of improvement” as beneficial. Improvement must be driven by your voice of market. The more you can demonstrate and reflect this change to the market place, the stronger your position is.
  2. Has Target Audience been identified: Similar to a problem-solving A3, many times a status or proposal A3 will be directed to a target audience. Establishing this will make understanding your A3 simpler and provide clarity, especially to others. Also try to identify the influencers of your target audience. They may be called upon to review portions of the A3 or to provide their opinion.
  3. Identify historical factors related to this topic: Putting things in context is very important and makes it much easier to understand why certain decisions were reached when reviewing this document. If there are no historical references such as latest PR craze or reactions to a competitors challenge, putting in the context of why we are doing this now or what brought this issue to a head provides critical information in review.
  4. Is it worth working on from the Market’s perspective: Does your market care? Lean is about value from the eyes of the customer. If the customer sees no value in this exercise, why should you? I think it should be tied to your customer value proposition and to the appropriate CTQ issue. What happens if you can’t tie this to a particular CTQ? It may be a wasted project or as a minimum, a very low priority project. We all have plenty of things to do but many quality initiatives show relatively small gains when not tied to the marketplace. I always think it is funny when people blame managers and leadership for not continuing with quality initiatives. I challenge you to show me the money! Show me how this is going to make a difference in market share or revenue.
  5. How does this align with the CTQs of your Market: In your product market segments you should have a list of the Critical to Quality issues that drive each particular segment. Is this problem related to one of these? This is very important because if the problem is not related to a CTQ, you may never see improvement in the market place for the work that you do. Aligning with a particular CTQ will also bring clarity to your subject and add more reason to do it.
  6. Will it increase revenue or market share, why: If you can substantiate why this problem will increase revenue or market share, I think you will find numerous people jumping on board. Don’t try to solve the problem but rather define the problem. What is it preventing? Include financial aspects of the proposal and alternatives. The more you can quantify and put actual dollar signs to the problem, the better off you are. This is the ultimate metric in my opinion. Gaining market share in a marketing channel that makes you little if any money is one thing. Gaining market share in your most profitable line is another. Demonstrate your financial gains.

Current Conditions

  1. What do things look like today: Don’t just accept tribal knowledge. “Show me the numbers” should be your resounding theme in this section. If you can’t measure it should you really be doing it? How will you be able to measure success? Use of process flow diagrams and other statistical control charts is ideal for distributing knowledge.
  2. What are the specific problems/needs and the gap in performance: You have identified the problem; what is the gap? Can you fill in the blanks our weekly webinar attendance has decreased from 30 per week to 15? Stay away from that we have noticed a drop in webinar attendance. This becomes vague and not much use when addressing later problems.
  3. If applicable, go and observe source: Going to Gemba (going to where the work is done) in the knowledge field is sometimes difficult to do. However, even in service industries it is important to experience what your customer experiences. If you have identified the problem based on what your customer values, it should be relatively easy to observe the problem. If you have not, this problem may not be defined well enough. If you can’t go to Gemba, role-play. Create an enactment of the problem in front of the group. Bring fresh players in. Call your own office and see how you get routed. Than call a competitor’s office and see how you get routed. Do you have a performance gap?
  4. Are the facts clear or are they just opinions: There is hardly a field that contains more tribal knowledge than sales and marketing. “Show me the data” should be a resounding theme throughout this process. If you cannot substantiate it through data, you need to seriously consider not doing it.
  5. Is it measurable and how: How are you going to quantify and identify success on this project? If you cannot do it now before solving the problem, how are you going to know that your improvement was successful and that your efforts succeeded? This is where Lean and Six Sigma people can start benefitting marketers. They understand metrics, not only in the interpretation of data but in designing the methods of capturing the right data to make a difference.
  6. Break down problem using 4 Ws (What-Where-When-Who): Don’t use “Why”!! Breaking down the problem is not solving it. Remember that to find a good solution you must not only address the root cause with “why” but you must find out what you are shooting at. Few problems are completely isolated; going through this simple process of the 4 Ws allows you to look at the big picture and the smaller ones at the same time. Typically a tree diagram is used.
  7. Determine point of concern (POC): Before determining root cause you must find the point of concern. This is typically done after you have broken down the problem utilizing the 4 Ws. It is recommended that you go to Gemba to evaluate the process and determine the POC.
  8. Identify strongest path, list alternatives to consider thru evaluation: I mention this imperative in addressing POC. As you do this you may find meaningful information that should be noted at the end of the A3 that may prove useful and could then be addressed. You may find that once you get to the root cause, it is cost prohibitive to proceed. There could be other alternatives that could produce similar or identical results if the targets were not as high.
  9. Who else needs to know this status: There may be others within and outside the organization that need to know the status of the process. They may notice something that they could assist with and even approve when they see a certain allocation go through. I warn you not to send to everyone but to create a “pull” type of arrangement where others can easily seek and efficiently find the information when they want to.
  10. What was the most recent problem or need addressed: You may find that what you are working on is an extension, hopefully of another A3 that should be referenced. If you are recording and documenting correctly, having this information may assist you a great deal. You may find that what you are working on has been addressed in a different manner or a portion of the information is still relevant and can be used. What you are trying to create is an efficient way to create knowledge flow within your organization: a learning culture.
  11. Is there a continued gap in performance: Has there been history of a gap in this area? This knowledge is important to gather; you may find knowledgeable individuals who could add their experience and this information could provide you added insight. Be wary of “we tried all this before”, but that culture should be minimized as you become a Lean organization. If you do get told that, ask them to identify what was tried and by what method: “How did you measure that…?” The old saying, “First seek to understand” can readily be applied here.
  12. What has been the most recent work performed: Was something done yesterday? Looking at the data without updating it can be very much like looking at your checking account without balancing it. Looking only at the current balance at the bank could get you in trouble.
  13. Is the work standardized or are processes still changing: The bank analogy still works here. Is the work still changing? We must determine if this system has stabilized and if the results we see are the results we get day and day out. This is where variation can play a big role because it is imperative for us to recognize things for what they are, not what they seem to be.


  1. What are the outcomes expected and why: What is expected through these efforts? This differs from defining the problem, as you have now identified the problem and found the point of concern. You are ready to address the issue but you must define the future state by answering how much, by when.
  2. What will be the changes in metrics? (From what to what by when): One thing that I found in this area that you need to be very careful about is metric wandering. When you are looking at the problem, you have a tendency to change the metrics at the same time because you are smarter now and can measure better. One of the problems in this is that you may start measuring things that you did not measure before. Does your number become skewed because the new data are not relevant to the old data? Case in point, measuring cash receipts at a store. I saw a store that changed their categories every year to designate different things. Though this kept them current, it also made trending information very hard to obtain. I would not recommend changing to stay current but instead building some type of feature up front that may broaden the way you look at categories or sub-categories so you can still interpret the data easily and then make a decision to drill down or not. The reason many measurements systems fail is this type of inconsistency and failure to step back and look down the road a little bit.

Determine Cause/Analysis:

  1. Brainstorm possible causes why the POC exist: This is an important step and is the root cause of many unsuccessful projects. Taking the time to properly determined and define the problem is 50% of your efforts. Seldom is that much time taken as we are in a rush to solve the problem. As I mentioned before, problems are not isolated. Determining which problem will have the greatest impact is imperative.
  2. Based on facts determine most likely cause(s): You must base your decisions on facts and not emotion. This is one of the reasons that following a proven methodology is so helpful. A well-thought out and repeatable approach to gathering customer & market data is essential if your efforts are to be viable.
  3. Establish linkage between Cause-and-Effect relationships: From Wikipedia:“This refers to the philosophical concept of causality, in which an action or event will produce a certain response to the action in the form of another event. Correlation does not imply causation is a phrase used in science and statistics to emphasize that correlation between two variables does not automatically imply that one causes the other (though correlation is necessary for linear causation, and can indicate possible causes or areas for further investigation… in other words, correlation can be a hint). The opposite belief, correlation proves causation, is a logical fallacy by which two events that occur together are claimed to have a cause-and-effect relationship.”
  4. Do the “why” and “therefore” tests: “Five whys” is a simple and logical process that everyone seems to get, but is it too simple? How do you check it? The “therefore” test is a reliable method to check the logic of the “five whys”. The “five whys” is easy to explain but it is not idiot-proof. We often bring in related information or predisposed thinking that gets us off the critical path. The “therefore” test assists us in determining if we stayed on a logical path. After finishing your “five whys” just do the steps in reverse and instead of using “why”, use “therefore”. This is a simple validity test that works remarkably well.
  5. Gain team consensus on cause-and-effect reasoning: It’s very important to gain consensus here; without it there is probably little reason to proceed. When decisions are made by one person, study after study shows that the effectiveness and the carrying-out of this decision are greatly minimized. If you want your efforts to be a success, gaining buy-in at critical junctures of the process is imperative. One juncture is when the problem is defined and the other is at the point when the root cause is determined. Eighty percent of your work should be involved in reaching this point.
  6. Rationalize: Who, What, Where, Why, and How: Determine the fundamental reason behind these concepts. Thinking through your problem is like taking a deep breath before moving on. Are these rational answers? Is there anything that jumps off the paper at you? Have you gone too far with root cause and have little, if any, control over the needed outcome? Have your thoughts been substantiated with data or do you need to sample?
  7. Measure: Even if you only use tribal knowledge, you will be better off going through the exercise. To get quantified results you do have to measure and use statistical data, but to improve your processes, you can simply use tribal knowledge, to an extent. However, I will warn you, tribal knowledge is not always correct. Observation of the numbers, without proper analysis, seldom works. You would be amazed at some of the scenarios I have seen where the obvious data do not work out to the obvious answer. But, on with the show and how you analyze something.

Typically, great discussion takes place on what should be measured. Make sure whatever you do has impact on the customer. You have a process map at your disposal, a set of measurements, so pick the one you understand best that has an obvious problem. This will make it simple rather than just trying to improve on the process.

You have two basic analyses to do, process and data. You can probably analyze either one first or even have separate parties do each. Remember the purpose of the analysis is to find the root cause of the problem. You will use these three steps: exploring, generating hypothesis, and verifying cause. Support your decision utilizing one of the tools listed in the chart. There are more advanced steps, but this will give you a good foundation to start.

Some people make a few assumptions and go directly to the implement stage. If you did that, one of my suggestions would be to at least experiment with your decision and analyze what change takes place. Testing is a big part of marketing and is seldom used enough.

Data Analysis Tips:

  1. Choose something that has different customers, segments, technologies, economics, etc., that are isolated. This way monitoring the results will be easier.
  2. Choose something that represents a significant or growing proportion of cost.
  3. Prioritize your objectives into price, speed, quality, service, etc.

Process Analysis Tips:

  1. Processing time: the time actually worked on the job
  2. Queue time: the time a job is waiting for the next operation
  3. Wait time: the time a job is waiting on other parts of the process
  4. Transport time: the time a job is in transit

Only processing time adds value; the other time elements should be reduced or removed.

The tools that are becoming available as we move further into the electronic age, data will get easier to manage. Sophisticated analysis is becoming available to the masses. Right now, we have more data than we know what to do with, but how we are analyzing website traffic or open rates, etc., must be improved. The understanding and implementation of this data is what will be imperative to have. Now you get to go to the Improve step.

A3 Problem Solving Example – Left Side

Control #: 10-2300 Team: Workshop Marketing TeamDate: 4/15/10 Title/Theme: A3PS -

Declining Workshop Attendance Background/Definition: In the past, we have averaged 80% capacity in workshop attendance. The past several years we have noticed a significant decline in attendance to only 50% capacity. We have tried increased PR, advertising and new social media ventures. Without an increase in attendance, we will have to either reduce the program size or cut one of the cities from the program.

Breakdown the Problem:

Breaking down the problem, we separated the different conferences by location (when is by city/event) and looked at the greatest decreases using the 4Ws. We found that our greatest area of concern was the Austin show – the A3 workshop – attended by service people that we acquire primarily through our existing database. Since Gemba was the process flow of the database, we reviewed that value stream and actually found no significant difference in the way the Austin workshop was handled versus the other workshops. However, there was a significant lack of inquiries from the mailings.

Target: Service Database for the Austin workshop needs to be increased by 50%

Determine Cause/Analysis:

Since Austin was the original workshop and had been well attended for many years the database lacked the segmentation that the others had and also a much lower percentage (50%) of healthcare professionals incorporated in it. That made are original target assumption misleading. It was not an increase needed in the database but better control and creating a better mix of the database. Root Cause was determined and we are ready for the other side (page) of the A3. In practice this is a great time for a break. Strategically placing you breaks in the development of your A3 is important. If this is close to the end of the day, tell everyone to go home or try playing a few ping pong matches. Whatever you do, create a break and disengage from the conversation completely. Another time for a short break was after you set the target and before root cause analysis.

Bonus Material: Mike Osterling is the president and principal consultant at Osterling Consulting. Osterling Consulting was founded for the purpose of supporting organizations on their continuous improvement journey. Building upon 18 years of internal experience in operations leadership roles, Mike has worked full time for the last 13 years applying the lean concepts in manufacturing and office environments. Mike is also the co-author of The Kaizen Event Planner: Achieving Rapid Improvement in Office, Service and Technical Environments. a practical, how-to guide for planning, executing, and sustaining rapid improvements in office, service, and technical environments

Podcast: Why A3, Why Now in Lean Thinking? Transcription Why A3, Why now in Lean thinking eBook

A3s Can Vary as Long as Your Storyline Stays Intact 0

A3s are a formal process to document and report solutions in a storyboard fashion on a single sheet of paper. It actually takes a big piece of paper, 11 x 17, or two 8 1/2 x 11 sheets. The paper is laid out with the left side defining the problem and the right side proposing the solutions.

PDCA layout for an A3The benefits of A3 are:

  1. It helps define a standard for all to use.
  2. It provides a clear and concise method of reporting information.
  3. The method of operation is visible and accessible to all.
  4. It prevents the habit of jumping to solutions.
  5. It can promote communication and team working.
  6. It is a continuous improvement activity.
  7. It creates an efficient working environment.
  8. It empowers the people closest to the work.

So what is so special? I think it has several qualities:

  1. It makes you think graphically.
  2. It forces you to make the story flow logically.
  3. It makes you condense words.
  4. It creates collaboration and teamwork.

The format to follow for the A3s can vary as long as your storyline stays intact. The value comes from the thinking that goes into generating the A3 reports (as Tim Berry of Palo Alto Software says, “It’s the act of creating the plan that has value”, not conformance to a specific template. If you’re familiar with the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) process, it can make a great beginning as you can think of A3 as a mini-PDCA.

There are basically four types of A3: Problem Solving, Proposal, Status and Strategy. For a complete description and understanding of these, I would recommend reading Understanding A3 Thinking by Sobek and Smalley. This, in my opinion, is the foremost work on A3 thinking and description of its use.

  1. The Problem Solving A3 report is the most common and is the basis for all of the others. It is has been called the thinking form. This structure is the primary tool that Toyota has used to enact PDCA throughout their organization.
  2. The Proposal A3 format is basically the same as the problem solving report except the implementation stage and follow-up are[JRD3] pending. It defines what you are going to do; it is a proposal. Many times it could even be a pilot or a sample offering stating that with these types of results, we will proceed. This type of documentation is very common in marketing. I even use this structure for my own marketing proposals and quotes.
  3. The third type of A3 is the Status report. Think of it as a snapshot of the situation. From this, you can develop a call-to-action but it is not meant to be a problem-solving exercise. The status report is much like an end-month balance sheet.
  4. The Strategy A3 focuses on a business planning strategy or in the case of this writing a marketing plan. It is planning report that looks at strategy for a longer period and at a higher level than the others.

We will concentrate on the problem solving A3. It is the most common and creates the best learning tool for A3 thinking. There is a basic nine-step process that takes place. A complete description of the A3 process can be found in the book, Learning to See: Value Stream Mapping to Add Value and Eliminate MUDA.

Title/Theme: What Changes or Improvement Are You Talking About?

  1. Select the problem areaA3 Areas
  2. Clarify the problem
  3. Break down the problem
  4. Set the target
  5. Investigate/analyze cause(s) then determine root cause
  6. Determine countermeasures and agree on plan
  7. Manage implementation plan
  8. Check and evaluate results and process
  9. Standardize and share, then decide next problem

A3 Problem Solving: Applying Lean Thinking by Jamie Flinchbaugh is an excellent beginning to understanding A3s. One of the key components in the book is his view of the flow and responsibilities within the A3. The outline to the right depicts Jamie’s version of an A3.

Do you try to quickly to get to why? The purpose of most questioning is to stimulate reflective thinking by probing for needs and concerns. Instead of probing with the 5 why’s try a more subtle approach or architecture for your sales and marketing.

In the paper, The Art and Architecture of Powerful Questions by Eric Vogt, he states that most groups working on this dimension of linguistic architecture produce a variant of the following general hierarchy.

The general thesis is that virtually any question can be converted into a more powerful question by moving up the pyramid. As an example, consider the following sequence:

  1. Are you feeling okay?
  2. Where does it hurt?
  3. How are you feeling in general?
  4. Why do you suppose you aren’t feeling well?

As we move from the simple yes/no question towards the why question, you probably notice that the questions tend to motivate more reflective thinking, and are generally more “powerful. There are refinements within this dimension of linguistic architecture available to an interested practitioner. For instance, using the conditional tense rather than the present tense will often invite greater reflective speculation:

  • What can we do?

seems to offer fewer possibilities than…

  • What could we do?

I like the Toyota architecture because Why is too powerful of a question to start with. Toyota’s, seven step “Practical Problem Solving Process” model encourages you to stay away from why till the fourth step.

  1. Initial problem perception
  2. Clarify the problem
  3. Locate area or point of concern
  4. Investigate root cause (5 Whys)
  5. Countermeasure
  6. Evaluate
  7. Standardize

They actually follow a similar architecture depicted in the triangle above. They used simple closed ended questions to identify and clarify the problem and then locate the area of concern though the 5 whys. Not the 5 Whys of root cause, but the 5 whys of When, Who, Where, Which and What. (The red is my adaption of the problem solving funnel)

The power of the first 5 whys is where the true power of discovery lies. It is the focusing step that provides clarity and provides the basis for agreement. Without these steps irrelevant information may be acted upon and finding agreement on root cause may be difficult. Effective action can only follow clear thinking. Providing a consensus on the point of concern before moving to root cause is imperative. In the paper cited, author Eric Vogt goes on to state:

The dialogue group concluded that clearly one dimension which defines a powerful question is this linguistic architecture. However, other factors are also at play when we consider the relative power of the following two questions:

  1. Why is my coat unbuttoned?
  2. Where can we find spiritual peace?

This is an instance where most people would say that the “where” question has somewhat greater power than the “why” question. After reflection, we hypothesized that there were probably three dimensions which define a powerful question: Architecture, Context and Scope.”

Do you use a structured Problem-Solving approach in your Sales and Marketing? Are you using the Lean Tool of A3?
Below is a short video on the subject and why you may want to consider using A3s in sales and marketing.


Daniel Matthews is an expert trainer with 30 years of training experience including Lean implementation and Training within Industry (TWI). He has spent fourteen of those years with the Toyota Company where he created and made use of the A3 as a core component of continuous quality improvement. Dan is the author of The A3 Workbook: Unlock Your Problem-Solving Mind and presently employed at the Kentucky Manufacturing Assistance Center. Website: http://kmac.or

Podcast: The Nuts and Bolts of A3 Thinking Transcript: Nuts and Bolts of A3 Thinking eBook

Applying A Systematic Approach To Any Field Is Challenging 0

A3s are an excellent way to communicate with your team members and other members of the organization. How many times have you picked up a piece of paper and spent much of your time figuring out how the information was organized? Once you did this, you then spent the rest of your time connecting the information in a meaningful way so that you could use it. Stretch your thinking of using an A3. Don’t just use it as a problem-solving tool. It can be a great template for other uses. It stimulates thought and creativity and, when stretched, allows many other interactions from others. Use it as your communication tool. The A3 encourages dialogue and the use of stories, graphics, and charts. This is the best way for people to learn and it directly engages people if designed correctly. Your A3 won’t do it all. You still have to show up and tell the story. However, having all the information visible allows a person to let the story unfold as they tell it. In modern day terms, you may see an A3 represented as a canvas or an infographic. Though neither is directly an A3 there are many similarities that exist.

Applying a systematic approach to any field is challenging. With the influx of web analytics, statistical process controls, regression analysis, design of experiments, simulations, and other engineering tools, the management of data is becoming commonplace. With the advent of the web, data is reaching the masses and is cool to have and display. Gaining agreement on what and how to measure is a difficult process due to the variations seen in customer demand and expectations. Collection, understanding, and interpretation of this data requires that a systematic process be followed. The guidelines for a systematic approach can still be summed up by Deming’s 14 key quality principles for transforming business effectiveness.These principles have been applied throughout industry, hospitals, and software development.

What is an A3? An A3 is a proven Lean problem-solving tool that allows you to effectively structure and communicate the process that you develop. The left side of the 11 x 17 page identifies your problems and sets your targets. The right side handles the problem-solving process, developing countermeasures, and standardizing the work. I look at the A3 as a mini PDCA project with the left side of the page being the Plan and the right side, the DO, Check, Act. At the end of the A3, you standardize the process for future use. It becomes a document that can help you improve similar projects or problems at a later date.

A3 Layout

If you are already a Lean company, most of your staff is familiar with A3 or certainly the principles of PDCA. They spend little time sifting through the structure and more time understanding what you are demonstrating. Their ability to organize these efforts quickly in their mind is priceless.

John Shook, author of the landmark book, Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process said the following in response to the basic question “What is an A3?”:

“The most basic definition of an A3 would be a P-D-C-A storyboard or report, reflecting Toyota’s way of capturing the PDCA process on one sheet of paper. But the broader notion of the A3 as a process–embodying the way of thinking represented in the format–captures the heart of Lean management. In this context, an A3 document structures effective and efficient dialogue that fosters understanding followed by the opportunity for deep agreement. It’s a tool that engenders communication and dialogue in a manner that leads to good decisions, where the proposed countermeasures have a better chance of being effective because they are based on facts and data gathered at the place where the work is performed, from the people who perform it.”

Can you make a difference in one page? Name the most famous documents! Most people in the U.S. would name the Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg Address. Most Englishman would name the Magna Carter. With one piece of paper people have changed the world. Today’s businesses compete on clarity and there is nothing that drives execution more. Without clarity, there is procrastination, mistakes, and ineffectiveness.

The A3 is meant to have a storyboard type format and be very flexible. There is not one single correct template for an A3. It is the carrying out of the process, not the piece of paper that is important. As long as you’re using the A3 problem-solving approach, and you are able to keep your deliverable on one piece of paper, then you have great flexibility to format your storyboard in any way that most effectively tells your entire story from problem through proposed solution.

p>This mind map predates my commitment to Lean Thinking and particular to the PDCA and A3 processes. This Problem Solving mind map is still useful as an effective reminder of a few of the errors that we make during the problem solving process. A good reminder even for a member or the facilitator of a problem solving team.

P.S. I apologize to the source of the material on the mind map as I can no longer remember where it came from. You will need to click on the map twice to enlarge sufficiently for viewing.

PDF Download of Map

All good problem solvers have that innate ability to problem solve? Or do they?

P.S. In the A3 section I have listed a podcast on each page of this section. I highly encourage you to listen to each one. These are a few of the most noted experts in the field.

Bonus Material:

Tracey Richardson is a trainer, consultant and principal of Teaching Lean Inc. She has 22 years of Lean experience and worked at Toyota Motor Manufacturing KY as a team member, team leader and group leader in the Plastics Department from 1988-1998. She has over 460 hours training in Toyota Methodologies and Philosophy and currently is a trainer for Toyota, their affiliates in North America, and other companies upon request. Website: http://teachingleaninc.com

Podcast – Is Problem Solving really the Core of Lean Implementation      Ebook- : Lean Problem Solving – eBook

Value Streams Focus On The More Formal Deliverables 0

What would Dr. Deming Say? Dr. W. Edwards Deming advised us that a supplier is a partner and our relationships must be based on cooperation and trust. Adversarial relationships result in waste. Supplier relationships based on Dr. Deming’s teachings change fundamentally and, even better, both suppliers and customers win. Dr. Deming showed how customers and suppliers are brought into, and become part of, the production system. System’s thinking is the key. The supplier-producer-customer network (value stream) works together as a system. The outline he so often used is depicted below.

Deming Process Flow

Dr. Deming would also talk about how we sub-optimize an organization by looking at each component above as an adversarial position. He talked about how each person, plant, supplier, work unit are pitted against each other and have little care for its impact on another part of the unit. When something goes wrong these isolated units strive to protect themselves from blame.

Deming Process Flow Isolation

Dr. Deming’s description of a system:

A system is a series of functions or activities within an organization that work together for the aim of the organization.

The components are necessary but not sufficient to accomplish the aim of the system. There is in almost any system inter-dependence between the components thereof. The greater is the interdependence between components, the greater the need for communication and cooperation between them.

The aim, the values and beliefs of the organization, as set forth by top management, are important. The aim of the system must be clear to everyone in the system. Without an aim, there is no system. The performance of any component is to be judged in terms of its contribution to the aim of the system, not for its individual production or profit, nor for any other competitive measures.

If the aim, size, or boundary of the organization changes; the functions of the subcomponents will change for optimization of the new system. Management of a system, therefore, requires knowledge of the interrelationship between all the sub-processes within the system and of everybody that works in it.

Management’s job is to optimize the entire system. Sub-optimization is costly. It would be poor management, for example, to optimize sales, or to optimize manufacture, design of product, or of service, or incoming supplies, to the exclusion of the effect on other stages of production.

-Deming, W. Edwards, Foundation for Management of Quality in the Western World

I would believe that a Lean enterprise or organization follows Dr. Deming’s teachings. It is also why I believe a Lean Enterprise has the best opportunity in this social world. It is the essence of what Dr. Deming has taught us.

Deming Process Flow Social

Above, I drew a few red lines to show that the social interaction has become a little more complicated than what Dr. Deming first proposed. However, it does not need to be all that complicated. The Value Network maps of Verna Allee can make this process much easier.

Example: My preference from a service design or a marketing perspective is to first review my existing value stream. I prefer making it stronger versus trying to add more suppliers and consumers. For example, if I review the tangible and intangible outputs for a given supplier. Are they delivering value at multiple stages of the value stream? Can that value be used in other areas? If I do this, will their value streams strengthen and as a result grow my value stream?

This is not anything more than what Dr. Deming told us:

Management’s job is to optimize the entire system. Sub-optimization is costly. It would be poor management, for example, to optimize sales, or to optimize manufacture, design of product, or of service, or incoming supplies, to the exclusion of the effect on other stages of production

The Deming Quotes were found in Four Days with Dr. Deming: A Strategy for Modern Methods of Management.

Value streams are anything but linear any more. They are collaborative in nature with overlapping responsibilities. Most of us are not looking at the production process as Dr. Deming addresses, rather we are viewing social collaboration. We are looking at how vendors, customers and others that may even be hard to classify can provide value to our network. In fact, we may have a hard time establishing if they are a customer or vendor.

How good are you at managing the relationships that your organization builds? As we move from a Product Dominant to a Service Dominant market, the relationships we create are at the core of our business model. However, how many of us understand these relationships? How many of us know what collaborative networks the other members of our team or organization are creating? Can we be successful, can we be social without this understanding?

In Lean you try to find the one best path – the value stream map. In the marketing, we have created the marketing funnel. However, Organizations can no longer feed products to customers, as I described in the blog post, Kill the Sales and Marketing Funnel. Customers have the ability to access resources and information comparable to their suppliers and choose suppliers by their own definition of value and how that value should be created. Organizations must adapt to the networks our customer chooses to find value in the use of our products and services. Our world is increasingly more collaborative driving changes in the way decisions are made. Our organizations need to change to a more collaborative structure but the question is where do we begin? From Value Networks and the true nature of collaboration by Verna Allee with Oliver Schwabe is a digital edition book located at http://www.valuenetworksandcollaboration.com.

Roles and interactions – providing focus for collaborative work

Role-based exchange networks are the natural way that people organize and collaborate to create value and achieve outcomes. In such a network every single person executes a chosen role. Through that role they provide value contributions to others and receive value in turn. Further, as long as people experience a sense of reciprocity and perceived value or accomplishment from the interactions – people will stay engaged.

The collaboration patterns that make things work have been pushed to the background through more than two decades of focusing on business process models. Now, with the growing use of social networking and collaborative technologies, the importance of those patterns is finally being recognized.

Indeed, people, and their very human exchanges and interactions are at the heart of value creation. People, not processes, are the active agents in organizations. Only people have the unique capacity to identify opportunities, innovate, and provide value.

Value streams typically only focuses only on the more formal deliverables. But in a collaborative world it is not only the formal deliverable but the informal, which in value networks are called tangible and intangible. Value network modeling is something that allows us to understand the pattern of different activities within organization or within the same basic value network structure. It’s a very, very different way of thinking about who delivers value. I like to use red and black checker after creating a map and stack them on the individual roles. I use black for tangible and red for intangible. This way you can have a better visual on what role the customer derives the most value from and what kind of value the customer is seeking.

Verna defines these deliverables:

When we model business activity we get into the very specific kinds of exchanges that are critical for success and we define two types of exchanges. We call them tangible or intangible.Tangibles are those things that are formal, contractual. If you don’t do these somebody’s going to want their money back. The things you must do, the value that must be delivered. We also are modeling all of those intangibles or informal exchanges that really build relationships and help things run smoothly. That is what is missing from process modeling.

Recently my use of the relationship diagram in particular has started to increase. Maybe not in the traditional sense of cause-and-effect relationships but the input/output connections between selected parts of the organization and the value that is created. The eerie part of this is that after creating several of these and one rather elaborate relationship map; I compared it to the Value Network modeling that had been introduced to me by Verna Allee, M.A., co-founder and CEO of Value Networks LLC. It was strikingly close to her model depicted below. (Verna introduced me last year to Value Network Mapping through this Business901 podcast, What’s behind Collaboration and Value Networks?) and the transcription,Where does a Customer Find Value in your Organization?


PDF Download of Map

P.S. More about collaborative work structure in the upcoming Hoshin Planning section

Today cooperation is replacing competition in more and more work situations. We are even seeing a rise in co-creating products with customers. Yet few of us have any training in cooperative thinking or group problem solving. Our typical introduction to teamwork is being picked to be part of a team. In Agile software development the use of pair programing has been used for many years. They consider that the defects are significantly reduced when there is another developer looking over ones shoulder. Because of this the overall rate of development is increased even though you may consider that efficiency has been decreased.

There have been other gains that have been attributed to pair programming. One is substitution as programming is tiresome, so that the developers together can program for longer hours than a single person. The other gain is knowledge or skill transfer. But maybe the most important, working as a pair or even in a larger setting as a team, assists in taking tacit knowledge and making it explicit.

From the book, Problem Solving & Comprehension, the authors state:

Pair problem solving is also an excellent system for building skills for team thinking, creativity, trouble shooting, and design. Often when a group of people meet to discuss an issue, each individual strives to show off his or her own competence or cut down other people’s ideas. To counter these tendencies a technique known as Brainstorming forbids criticism. But this does not really solve the problem, because criticism is essential to building an effective solution. Pair problem solving encourages constant criticism without degenerating into personal bickering.

Most people, including highly talented people, have very little conscious awareness of how they produce creative new Ideas or how they reach decisions. When you have little understanding of how you think yourself, the conclusions reached by others can be completely baffling In the highly charged, competitive environment of the corporate rat race it is easy to see other people’s ideas In a bad light. Pair problem solving develops both an understanding of your own reasoning processes and an appreciation of those of other people. Furthermore it shows you how working with other people, you can refine ideas and problem solutions so that the end result is better than any single contribution This experience and the experiences of sharing your thought processes create a feeling of intimacy and trust. It establishes the base for a group to move from bickering to brilliance.

We have a significant amount of team building exercises but I believe it can be boiled down to one thing: Respect for people. If your organization has that built into its culture and externalized to its customers and vendors, you may have mastered the most powerful ingredient for success. As my Friday Video counterpart, Dr. Balle suggests, “As an individual are you taking the time to see how easy you are making someone else’s job.” A simple exercise that can be interesting is for the rest of the day do not solve a problem without asking someone for an opinion. Knowledge is not created in a vacuum.

Five Dysfunctions of a Team Workshop Deluxe Facilitator’s Guide Package is outstanding and can be a great start for not only sales and marketing but your entire organization.

The relationship between Quality and Collaboration, Quallaboration was the topic of a podcast with Jim Benson, the person behind Personal Kanban.

Video on Quallaboration Quallaboration Video

Podcast: Quallaboration Podcast with Personal Kanban Founder

eBook: Quality and Collaboration eBook