Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summarizing A3 Management on Last Minute Notice


A friend asked me to help him prepare for a last minute interview for a management position at a "Lean" company.  He was concerned that he did not know enough about A3 to answer questions about the topic.  I created a summary of A3 to assist him.  I thought others might find my response useful and so I've posted it here.  The summary follows: 
Bruce, (not his real name) 
A3 is being promoted heavily by the Lean Enterprise Institute to emphasize the need to apply more than just the technical tools and methods of Lean but the social/management side of Lean as well.  Thoroughly understanding A3 is a big undertaking – but you have an excellent advantage – you understand many of the components already.  A3 is structured scientific problem solving to:
· meet company goals
· develop/ coach all employees to be better problem solvers
· develop managers to be effective problem solving coaches and to become creators of more managers with the same capability 
Together these goals ensure the organization will continually improve its capability to deploy strategies, meet goals,  respond to changes in the marketplace, and solve performance problems.
The name comes from the paper size (roughly 11 x 17) used by Toyota as the standard for creating and displaying  their A3 reports.
The important thing to understand is, “it’s not about the tool”.  It is about the points above.
It can get complicated or it can be kept simple.  For instance, I have a reference book that lists nine different types of A3’s used by Toyota.  And I have worked with companies using only one type.  In its simpler application, a single A3 form can serve as one stop shopping for learning about a project and how it is going.  During the course of project work, the information on an A3 form may go through the following logical progression:
· At first the A3 describes the problem, goals, objectives  - agreement is established between the project manager and a business or functional leader (the project manager may be a person whose role in the organization is that of an engineer, or a supervisor, or a team lead, to name just a few)
· Next an action plan is developed – those closest to the work help put it together and again agreement is established  among the extended team– this time all of the people who are responsible for the action plan are included in the agreement (this is done to ensure the plan is realistic and doable – people closer to the work are better able to determine how realistic the plan is)
· Actions are taken to carry out the plan and at appropriate intervals the A3 is updated – for example, a department level A3 may be updated every month while a division level A3 may be updated every quarter. 
· In a more complex application of A3, lower levels A3’s are collected to support higher level A3’s.  This is done to verify that the project results are rolling up to successfully meet the goals of a larger program or initiative.  It is typically not a straight mathematical rollup; instead its a loosely coupled to provide for a measured implementation.  Rather than tracking every penny of savings or improvement, the aim is to get the plan done and delivered the goals of the organization.     
The Lean Enterprise Institute has made examples available here
Bruce, you can see A3 it is not very different from methods that I know you have used in the past.  The A3 approach simply places special emphasis on:
· provision of clear communication
· accomplishment of a common understanding and agreement
· top-down and bottom-up planning   - executives say what needs to be done, employees say how it will be done
· an approach that supplies clear evidence of a working plan with a data driven approach  for carrying-out the projects that complete the program or initiative
· visible assurance that managers are actively coaching their subordinates to apply the process at every level of the company, from the executive ranks to the front lines of the business   
Just about anything else I point you too will likely confuse you on such short notice.  Descriptions for A3 thinking are all over the map.  By considering A3 the way I've presented it above you should get  through the interview just fine.
I’ll be around in the morning if you have questions.  Good luck!

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