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.
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
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.
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