Sunday, June 29, 2014

A3 Is All About the Leader


No doubt it is fun to see the impact of every single person working to make continuous improvements. It is also fun to watch what happens to your productivity number. As a company, you find people easily doing much more with the same amount of effort. Simply by steadily seeing and eliminating the 8 wastes in one process after another. It is really fun when your customers are delighted (not satisfied). It is also nice to see healthy cash flow-money sitting in your bank account vs. sitting on the floor or with your suppliers or in accounts receivable. The "concept" of flow has many benefits, and you get there one baby step at a time.

All of the fruits of your lean efforts are very satisfying. To me, the single best benefit falls under the TPS principle of "Develop Your People and Partners". The single best benefit is the impact A3 has on the people who lead A3 teams. So often it is easy to gloss over the basic guiding principles of TPS. There is a huge difference between saying you develop your people and actually doing it. Day in and day out. Till death do us part.

Nothing develops people better than a challenge. When you do A3, you ask your leaders to do things they are absolutely are not used to doing, and may never have done in their life. Here is the list of "growth opportunities" for every single person in your company:
1. Select the Right team-the right team could be people the leader NEVER works with. For example, a person on the assembly line may need someone from engineering on their team. Or someone from IT. During course of the A3, the leader is the leader. Everyone reports to the leader, and often that means homework.
2. Facilitate 15-20 minute meetings, going through the DMAIC, at Gemba (where the work is), 2 or 3 days apart, at most. The leader needs to learn to hot the ground running for each meeting, planning the game plan. You don't want people to show up and stand around. 
3. Need to work with the team to "gain consensus" on the current condition, root cause, the target condition and the implementation plan. They need to convince people that our way is more important than my way.
4. They need to leverage the diversity of every team member to optimize the value of 3-5 brains are better than 1 brain.
5. They need to work to gain agreement on when the A3 closing will be. And make sure the team commits to that date. 
6. They need to overcome the nausea and lightheaded-ness that comes with the closing......public speaking. This fear alone is worth a few units of growth. 

It is the role of leadership to help the A3 leader through each of these challenges. The first time through will be full of apprehension and uncertainty. After doing the process a few times, they will get better and better at it. In the beginning it is like teaching someone to ride a two wheeler. You hold the handlebars, run along side them, help them off the ground. Then you let go, and they can go anywhere.

A population of problem solvers capable of taking a team through the A3 process is a scary competitive advantage. And the most satisfying part of your TPS strategy.

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