For those of you who read this blog religiously, you will remember that I often refer to customer complaints as the single best opportunity for organizational learning. The A3 process, and especially "Yokoten" (the A3 "closing") is designed specifically to give everyone short, continuous bursts of organizational learning. In the book "The Fifth Discipline", author Peter Senge describes organizational learning as the fifth discipline. The more people can learn about the "whole" (instead of merely their own area of expertise) the better.
I love to think of customer complaints, and any problem we face as an organization as tuition. Often there is a steep cost for learning. (anyone pay college tuition lately?). Nothing is more frustrating than paying tuition over and over for the same course!!
Way too often I see the quality department as a silo in many companies. Too many well-intentioned quality managers keep quality problems isolated and hidden. Complaints and complaint resolution are reduced to a pencil pushing exercise on forms that go in a drawer or on the computer to satisfy various ISO business standards, and NO REAL systematic, steady organizational learning occurs.
If you find yourself paying tuition over and over and over for the same course (not learning from our mistakes or not getting to root cause), then it is probably time to inject some real energy into your quality system by using A3 to do CAPA (Corrective and Preventative Action) especially if you have worked to develop a strong, steady, continuous spirit of kaizen in your business.
The 4 fundamental principles of the Toyota Production System are:
- Make decisions based on a long term philosophy, not on short-term financial goals;
- Continuously develop your people and partners;
- Believe (and demonstrate) that the right process will produce the right result; and
- Make your problems visible and the basis for your organizational learning.
Doing CAPA properly means getting to root cause. Root cause analysis is a team sport....it is almost impossible to do solo. An A3 team of 3-5 people is perfect for root cause analysis. Doing CAPA properly means going through plan, do, check, act (PDCA). PDCA is not meant to be done alone. Another term for doing PDCA alone is "jumping to solutions". The boxes on the A3 form are designed to be done in order in the sequence of PDCA!
At my own company, quality issues went on the A3 board and were required to close in 5 work days. A 3-5 person team was formed where quality was working hand in hand with operations, shipping, a salesperson, sometimes even with the customer. The closing was all about all of us getting smarter and working to become experts in our business.