Sunday, October 19, 2014

A3 Closing 101

If you are one of the growing number of companies using the concept of A3 to drive your lean strategy faster and faster, you understand the value of the "closing". It is not at all unusual for a small to medium-sized company to complete a couple of hundred A3s over the course of the year vs. doing a dozen or so 3 day kaizan events. A3 thinking will build a culture of continuous improvement. Process improvements are continuously made by the people who do the process. All they need to do is select a 3 to 5 person team, and by leveraging the diversity of that team and gaining agreement, they proceed quickly through the scientific method of problem solving (the DMAIC), which is laid out on a single page A3 form.

One of the most important steps in doing A3 after you and your team have solved a problem and made an improvement, is the need to "close it"-teach your peers what you did. It is just as important for people to hear the "how" as it is for them to hear the "what". After death, snakes and clowns, speaking in front of people is what makes people's skin crawl most. Like most things, the more often you do it, the better you get at it. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind about A3 closings if you are just getting going:
1. Managers help the A3 leader rehearse what he/she will say-the form itself is the script, but when the lights go on, folks have a tendency to focus on the "fix". Make sure they introduce their team, describe the problem, explain how they went through root cause and then agreed on a countermeasure. 
2. Start with big groups-when you first start doing A3, make sure the closings are standing room only. Make sure the bosses show up. Closings take anywhere from 10-30 minutes, so make the time to show up. (People will spend that much time talking about fantasy football). Big groups with the bosses there demonstrate importance. 
3.  Do the closing where the improvement is-the impact of the work is so much easier to appreciate when people are looking at it. Since people will be looking right at the "target condition", often people will show pictures or a video of what the "previous condition" was.
4. Make sure everyone can hear-if you follow rule #3, at times you will have a group of people straining to hear out on the plant floor.  A portable microphone and amplifier can be found on line for ~$120. Good investment! Make sure everyone can hear every word!
5. Standardize the day and time (make sure everyone knows about it)-to build a culture of continuous continuous improvement, start scheduling weekly closings for the same day and time. Some companies close at 10 am on Friday mornings, others right after lunch. In my own company, we always closed at 3 pm on Thursday afternoons. Some weeks there would be 1 or 2, other weeks 4 or 5. The point is, we are establishing a new routine (kata), and you will be less likely to hear that people didn't come because they didn't know about it. 
6. Don't forget the other shifts-most of the action in most companies happens on first shift. In this day of cell phone videos and Youtube, simply make a video of the closings each week and share them with the other shifts. Some companies run the video on their lunchroom monitors, others show the videos at pre-shift "huddle" meetings. A3s completed by 3rd shift people are closed as they are leaving and the first shift is coming in. Do your best to include every single person in your game plan.
7. Start easy, get harder. If people are closing their first 5-10 A3s, resist the urge to poke holes in how perfectly they did the DMAIC. Avoid putting them on the spot in front of a group of people they are nervous talking in front of in the first place. You can coach them after the fact. As people do it more and more often, you can begin to challenge them during the closing. The long term objective is to develop an entire company full of people who can respectfully challenge each other without taking it personally. 

"Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others." That is one of the foundations of The Toyota Production System, and A3, and the closing, is one very good way to routinely practice growing leaders!

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