An A3 Retrospective

Lean Thinking is often developed through a structured approach using a tool such as an A3. It is one of the best ways, I believe in developing a problem-solving culture through practice. The easiest way to start is to purchase Jamie Flinchbaugh’s Kindle book, A3 Problem Solving: Applying Lean Thinking . It does an excellent job as an introduction more importantly it gets you thinking.

In workshops that I have attended and give on A3s the last step of Adjust seems to get short-changed. I think that is a mistake. If you cannot put what you learned in the A3 into action why do it? However, just as in a workshop, most of the time we treat this portion of the cycle as it will naturally evolve instead of putting as much effort into it as we do the other portions of PDCA or spelled out the Plan-Do-Check.

Act or Adjust, as I explain in my CAP-Do work, should be a period of thinking and reflection. I believe the agile method of retrospectives may capture that process better than others. In the past we may think about the Lessons Learned in project management but I think that has a tendency towards looking at a project from a final status where the Retrospectives have a tendency to evaluate more with an open-mind for continuance if needed.

The most quoted source that I have found on retrospectives is Derby and Larson’s Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great. This is a very pragmatic book that list many of the tools and activities to gather insights and additional data that is needed for and during the session. A few of the tools described are Force Field Analysis, Histograms, Five Whys, Matrices, etc. They also spell out a 5-step process for the retrospective:

  1. Set the stage
  2. Gather Data
  3. Generate Insights
  4. Decide what to do
  5. Close the retrospective

I like this approach, however, if you are working through an A3, you will find that much of the data and insights have already been generated. During the implementation cycle, many of us should be doing mini-PDCA session or even sprints of some type to test and verify the counter-measures that we are using to address the problem. In the agile world, they might call this an interim retrospective.

In Mike Rother’s, Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results treats these interim retrospectives in a PDCA Cycles record and looks at the progression towards the Target Condition through a term called Obstacles. I think that thought process is nearly the same. We overcome obstacles, sprints, or mini-PDCA towards validating a counter-measure to a problem.

I have gone a long way around to arrive at the end of an A3 and to get to the 4th and 5th point of Deciding what to do and Closing the retrospective. I believe there are 3 options:

  1. SDCA: If we feel we have provided an adequate countermeasure for the moment, we should be able to transfer the information into Standard work or in Training within Industry terms a set of Job Instructions. This would ensure that we capture and sustain the knowledge gained in performing the A3 process.
  2. PDCA: Another option is that we failed to provide the desired improvement necessary, but feel that we are for the lack of better words, headed down the right path. We may during the retrospective found that we discovered other obstacles (counter-measures) we needed to consider or that we did not complete the existing countermeasures to the desired level that we should have. This could be a lack of time, expertise or even budget constraints. Whatever the problems we make a decision to review and iterate again.
  3. EDCA: The third option is that we failed miserably but still consider the problem/situation something we need to address. You would not need a major overhaul but you certainly may need to go back to the beginning and instead of taking an incremental approach such as PDCA, you may want to consider solving the problem through the innovation process of Explore-Do-Do-Check-Act that Design Thinking or Lean 3P process. This approach normally requires a different to be formed since the present team may not have the knowledge or wherewithal.

A3 RetrospectiveIf we go into a retrospective from these points of view, with options for each, we allow ourselves a much better way to evaluate the results and move forward. This also prevents projects from never-ending or never being implemented.

One other word of note that is worth mentioning, I think that we should allocate the proper meeting duration for wrapping up an A3. In retrospectives that last 30 days, the typical amount of time recommended is 1 full day. I would challenge that most organizations do not allocate anywhere near that amount of time for the review of an A3.


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