Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Birth of The FLASH A3

 I am convinced that the only way to sustain the slow, continuous march toward a "Lean Culture" is to convince every person in the organization to do small, continuous, reversible improvements. Small bites (heijunka) toward flow. The leadership objective becomes how do I convince everyone that getting better is part of their job description, teaching them to see waste in their processes, then teach them how to leverage the diversity of their peers and gain consensus on improvements. Finally, how do we create a population of people comfortable teaching others what they learned.

Most of us start our lean journey doing "kaizan events"-3 days, 6-12 people, sticky notes, etc. How do you eat an elephant? Small bites! I think of these kinds of events as big chunks, tough to chew, probably everything doesn't get "digested". Plus, most end up with a laundry list of small bites that need doing that don't get done. I did a few of these, then realized I was batching improvements.

To go to "one piece flow", I began teaching how to use A3 as a way of standardizing continuous continuous improvement. The A3 itself is the vehicle to ensure people don't fix symptoms instead of root cause. It is a constant reminder of plan-do-check-act and even define-measure-analyze-control. One of the questions I am asked constantly is "don't get me wrong, I think A3 is great, but why not just do the improvement?" I usually answer by telling people if it impacts others and is a teachable moment, do A3. If it doesn't meet those criteria it's a JDI (just do it).

Meet Bill Anstett of Dymax Corporation in Torrington, CT. Bill is about 6'8' and NOT overweight. He is a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do, and a kick boxer. From the start, I realized that Bill has an eye for improvement-the rare breed of person who can see waste in his own processes. Well, he asked me "why don't we just do it? I gave him my answer. The next time I saw him, he showed me his idea. What if a small group of people (3 or 4) want to go after something, get quickly to root cause, and implement some countermeasure, all in 2-3 days max? He told me he understands the A3 values of leveraging diversity and of teaching (yokoten). He even took the time to design the form for the flash A3. The headings are:
1. The Problem
2. The Crew
3. The Pain
4. The Fix

One week later, to my surprise (and joy), people throughout the company were talking about whether projects were A3 or Flash A3. I sat in on A3 4 closings, and ideas that came out of the closings were going straight to the A3 board as Flash A3s. The form itself, remember, is the vehicle. The big game changer is the defiant attitude (the healthy disrespect for the current condition). To the credit of John Stonesifer, Lean Manager at Dymax, Bill's idea was quickly implemented in 2 plants. A3s themselves are not time projects. At my company 300+ A3 projects were completed by 70 people, and the average duration was 4.7 days (at 20 minutes per day by the team).
Back to Bill Anstett. This mountain of a man spends much of his spare time working with schools to eliminate bullying as an officer for a non-profit called "Schoolnami". Schoolnami is founded and run by a vast network of people involved with schools, education, administration, law enforcement, and social services for your children. Their expertise and vast services can help students, parents, or school districts who are struggling with bullying, gang issues, or self esteem. Pretty impressive dude. Check out Schoolnami at


  1. Bill's my nephew and a pretty cool guy, if I say so myself. I am proud of him and very happy he has an outlet for his ideas, creativity and desire to reduce waste and streamline his workplace. A mountain of a man in many ways!

  2. Bill is my nephew as well. I admire people who have a deep inner life and the vision to translate what that means to them into the world. And who undertake the discipline and hard work that results in genuine accomplishment springing from that vision. Bill is one of those people. I was not aware of these particular accomplishments in the work place. But I am not surprised. Way to go Bill.