Sunday, April 6, 2014

A3: The Real Life Game of Thrones

The customer is King. And Lean is just a fun hobby unless it is coupled with a relentless, laser-like focus on delivering exactly what the King wants, exactly when the King wants it. (This is also true for YOUR internal customer (whomever gets your work), but today I am focused on the King who pays our bills).

Unfortunately, most of our businesses aren't designed to really delight his Highness. Most of the time our businesses are set up to be more convenient for us. We like to think of our business from the top-down. The Almighty CEO oversees a group of Senior Leaders, who oversee Department Heads, who might oversee some Supervisors, who may have a group of Foreman to oversee, who in turn oversee the people who actually do the value-added work the King will pay for. It is convenient to have like-minded people grouped together. The King's requests can get passed from department to department, with ques and waiting at each handoff. 

To illustrate, what if the King calls in with a problem? How is it handled? Is it something we did or something the King did? How long, from start to finish, before the King is delighted with our answer? How about if the King wants to return something? How many departments need to sign off and how long does it take?

The beauty of doing A3 is that an A3 team is a group of people looking to solve problems the way his Royal Highness has to deal with us. Not top-down, but horizontally. A typical mission from the King might involve sales working with marketing, or product development. It might involve customer service working with quality and production, etc., etc. Good A3 teams can assemble at a moments notice, and not spend much time in long meetings. Good A3 teams are good at navigating through the DMAIC, leveraging diversity and gaining agreement. And getting back to His Majesty before he expected you to.

It is said that it is impossible to do A3 (or Agile or Scrum) in a hierarchical bureaucracy.  Practice doing A3 using employee suggestions as your first projects. People will learn to pick the right team, how to play well together, and how to stay focused on DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control), not DIAMC. Once they get it, you will have an incredible competitive advantage. And the King's approval!  

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