Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A3 is not a Tool!!!! It's the Gas Pedal

Sometimes you may hear people rattle off lean "tools". You'll hear value stream mapping, total preventive maintenance, single minute exchange of dyes, kaizan events, 5S, point of use storage, 5 Why, spaghetti diagrams, A3.....stop!!!! A3 is no "tool". For me, it is the single most important vehicle for moving an organization from "lean department" to a learning organization.

A3 seems simple enough. A single sheet of paper that organizes the problem solving process of Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control. Rookies might even consider A3 a "form". In my personal experience at my company, the spirit of A3 is a way to make dozens (even hundreds) of small, continuous, steps toward "flow" each year. In the next few blogs, I will expand on how A3 builds the following attributes in an organization:
1. Consensus builder and leveraging your diversity. You've heard that "two heads are better than one". How about 3 to 5 "heads"?
2. Ownership builder-what if you could be the "dumbest guy in the room" and your headaches were being tackled by the brainpower of your entire organization?
3. Just-in-Time condition-how do you get people to find time to improve processes? In most organizations, we're too busy doing our processes (with their 90% 8 wastes) to improve them.  
4. Expert root cause analysts-solving problems and not symptoms takes practice, and practice makes perfect. A company doing 200 A3s a year gets very good at seeing problems, determining root cause and implementing countermeasures!
5. A population of teachers-a learning organization is full of people who learn 50% of the time, and teach 50% of the time. How many times are great improvements made in YOUR company and a small percentage of people even know they happened? A3 "closings" ensure that TEACHING occurs, and often, the lessons learned can be applied to other problems in different parts of the company.
6. Load leveler-what if a few people weren't carrying the continuous improvement load? What if the responsibility to "get faster" rested with everyone, and that was how success was measured?

A3 is used in all parts of our organization. Don't underestimate the power of A3!

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