The 4 Step A3 Progression

The 4 Step A3 Progression

By Discovery Lean Six Sigma

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Bela Karolyi: "You can do it!"

Anyone who has tried to do "lean" understands that the single biggest hurdle is what I call "busy-ness". Simply, this is our inability to make improvements in any or all of our processes because we are simply too busy. Keep in mind that there will never be time to improve, we need to make it. The idea of A3 (the process, not the form) is to build a new business process where everyone can make improvements every day. The A3 process is a way to develop a culture of kaizen by slowly and steadily developing a process where people are making small steps toward flow by attacking the 8 wastes (defects, overproduction, waiting, non-essential processing, transport, inventory, motion and un-used employee brainpower). All we ask is that everyone spends 20 minutes every single day working ON vs IN their business!

This extremely powerful process is a competitive advantage and a strategic weapon. It is not something that can be developed in a few weeks, it takes time. For the numerous companies that I have worked in (including my own), there is a progression, which needs to start with "employee suggestions" and builds to "learning organization."  Here are the steps to this progression, summarized:

  1. A3 starts by asking everyone, "if you owned the company, what change would you make right now to your job?" Then work to make these people make these improvements come true using the A3 process. This step begins to lay the foundation for a heightened sense of ownership in people as well as teaching people to use plan-do-check-act to solve problems. The foundation is laid by getting everyone through the A3 process, from seeding to moving to closing. Once employees see the value of having a voice (and a process to actually do improvements), more and more people will do more and more improvements. This stage is where managers learn that it is disrespectful to fix someone else's job.
  2. The DMAIC stage-this is where, in addition to employee suggestions, the A3 process to use define-measure-analyze-improve-control to solve harder and harder business problems. Customer complaints, recurring defects, on-time delivery, etc. Nothing changes in this stage other than the fact that the A3 board consists of 50% employee suggestions and 50% assigned, harder problems. People learn the DMAIC because that is how the form is laid out, and A3 project leaders also realize they don't need to solve the problem (in fact, they don't need to know much about it).....their job is to pick and lead a team through the A3 process!
  3. Policy deployment-this is a business strategy, a change in direction, where the company wants to find itself in the future. PD consists of 4 components: the Why, a new set of dashboard metrics, a way to introduce new learning to the organization, and finally, a way to move the metrics (kaizen, or in this case A3). Most businesses fail at PD or hoshin planning because they simply can't do kaizen. If you've got the foundation set (steps 1 & 2 above), you are ready for PD.
  4. The learning organization-in his book "The Fifth Discipline", author Peter Senge insists that a learning organization is the ultimate compliment you can give any organization, and the list of learning organizations is fairly short. Learning organizations have a very sharp learning curve, and are able to process new information and react and adjust very quickly. People become experts of their processes, their customers, their suppliers, their machines because there are intentional, standardized learning opportunities from the minute they are hired until they retire. 

The speed of this progression is dependent on 2 factors: the urgency and the degree of involvement of every level of the organization. The progression can move very fast if the urgency is high, and if everyone sees that even the COO is spending his 20 minutes ON vs. IN. The progression can take months or it can take many years. For most it will never happen because there is no urgency and lean is thought of as a hobby because we are too busy.

If you don't think you can afford 20 minutes a day, start with 15 or 10. In the words of gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, "you can do it!!!" 

If you want results others don't get, you need to be willing to do things others won't do!

By: Bill Greider
Posted: March 10, 2019, 4:31 pm

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