Sunday, December 8, 2013

Getting A3 Going Today

If you ever decide that you would like to adopt lean as a business strategy, I encourage you to use A3 thinking as the vehicle to move toward a culture of continuous continuous improvement. 3 to 5 heads are always better than one to leverage diversity of thinking and to gain consensus.

Start today. Pull everyone together and ask everyone to think of one improvement in their own job. Hand out index cards and ask people to write one thing down. Give them a few days to think about it, then go collect them. If they haven't written anything when you go see them, give them more time, but then go follow up again. As you collect them, ask people to SHOW (not tell) you what they mean. Some of these suggestions will serve as your "starter set" of A3 projects. Pick between 3 and 6 to serve as the first projects. The person who gave you the card is the leader. Make sure you let the "owners" of the cards not immediately selected know that these "projects" will be next. 

Which ones to pick first? Look for easy wins to start. Remember that A3 thinking is about doing a ton of small improvements alot, not big improvements once in a while. It is also about BETTER, not PERFECT. If there is a big project on an index card, help the owner bite off a piece to tackle. The starter set is to teach people how to use the A3 to solve problems and make improvements using the scientific method (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control). 

Once you have a handful of starter projects, make them visible (along with the leader's name) on a board located where many employees will see it (some put it near the time clock, or near the break area). Once the projects are on the board, they are considered "active". The next goal is to get the A3 leaders to pick their teams and have their first meeting within one week. It is the role of managers to help here. Initially, people may want to pick their friends, who they eat lunch, or drink beer with as team members. Depending on the project, do they need an engineer? Someone from maintenance? Will other people's jobs be affected by the project? If so, they should be on the team. Need someone from purchasing? IT? Safety? Quality? Once the team is set, ask the A3 leader to go invite the people they've chosen to the first meeting. A3 meetings are 15-20 minutes long, and it is common for them to happen right after break or right after lunch, or first thing in the morning. As leader, make sure you attend all of the first meetings. The agenda will be for the A3 leader to SHOW (not tell) the team (at GEMBA) the problem that is on the card. Make sure, as the leader, you do not talk, since it is not your project. You are there to support the A3 leader AFTER the meeting. 

Subsequent meetings should be no more than 1, 2 or 3 days apart. This keeps everyone focused on the task at hand, and everyone is easily brought up to speed. The team needs to further define the current condition (how many, how long, how often), then do root cause analysis (5 why), followed by agreeing to at least one countermeasure, and when it will be done. This closing date goes on the board. When done, the A3 leader will present their learnings to everyone at a project closing, held "right after break". 

The starter set of projects is about what is on the index card, but it is much more about coaching and developing the person who handed it to you! 

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