A3 – A Process, Not A Form

Kris Hallan is a frequent contributor on the LEI forum at lean.org.
In this post, he outlines some great experiences with trying to implement the “A3 process” in his organization. Lean Forums – A3.

One thing that really drove home what goes wrong most of the time with the A3 process, and frankly, with most well-intentioned efforts to bring good analysis into organizations, was his experience of an early effort to try to “require” it without having the behaviors to back it up:

One of the worst things you can do is require an A3 be written and then allow a poor A3 to get past you. This has a tendency to happen when you put an A3 mandate on something that you don’t necessarily have control over. For instance, we started by requiring all CAPEX [capital expenditure – ed] projects to be proposed using the A3 format (hoping that the A3 thought process would come with the format).

What we got was a lot of projects summarized on A3s and virtually no feedback to go back and improve anything. No one learned anything from the process, no hanei occured, and nemawashi was non-existent. It became a box that everyone had to check. This can have a very detrimental effect on people’s attitude toward A3. Since they don’t take it seriously, they can’t really learn anything from it. I would say that this actually moved us backwards in our understanding of problem solving.

I could not agree more. I have seen this in other companies. This is PLAN-DO without the CHECK and ACTion. Set an expectation, go through the motions of compliance, but don’t ever bother to see if it is actually working the way that is expected.

The good news, further into his post, is that Kris’s organization figured it out and found that doing it thoroughly is more important (and quicker!) than doing it fast.

7 thoughts on “A3 – A Process, Not A Form

  1. Confusing tools with thinking – happens all the time. Art Smalley does a good job of showing the difference in his book “Understanding A3 Thinking” based on his experience in Toyota and elsewhere. He shows how to use different types of A3s, showing that you can’t cram just any situation into one form.
    [Mark – process problem. I typed all this once, but made a mistake in my e-mail address. Couldn’t get back here from the error message screen and had to start all over again.]

  2. This is also sometimes a problem with checklists also. I have known people who are more interested in just going through the checklist than actually doing the inspection. Documentation is important, but it is not the end all-be all.

  3. We could avoid a lot of confusion if we stopped calling it “A3” and just called it PDCA. If consultants and authors need to coin something new then “one page problem solving” to emphasize the importance of a single sheet. A3 automatically puts a template into people’s minds, which isn’t good.

  4. John Shook’s book, Managing to Learn…does a great job on the thinking part of A3 use. Recommend his book and Smalley’s together as the basis and pre-work for implementing the A3 process.

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