Saturday, March 28, 2009

What is an A3? Does your company embed this "Lean communication tool" in their culture?

When I started at TMMK (Toyota Motor Manufacturing KY) in Georgetown, KY, back when we were still building the plant, I can remember our japanese trainers discussing "problem solving" with my supervisors and how important it was for us to "practice" this thinking in our daily activities. I also remembered overhearing the acronym or term "A3" and wondered exactly what that meant in regard to solving problems. Now you have to remember, in 1988, we didnt have computers or printers in the workplace so it wasn't a well-known reference as the "size of paper" we know it to be now (11 x 17). I can remember thinking in my mind what does A and 3 stand for? (grin)
When my trainer referred to it as a "storyboard" it started to make a little more sense, and I was very intrigued to learn more about this unique methodology. I was only 19 years old when I came to TMMK so solving worksite problems and documenting them in the PDCA format wasn't commonplace to me, nor was it for the majority of team members I worked with.

My group leaders and japanese trainers quickly developed my/our "thinking" process (PDCA) and how it would be part of my/our everyday activities at the Gemba. We were taught that it was our responsibility to "think" and make improvements within our processes and area. Problems were to be looked at as our "friends" at Toyota; instead of the traditional mentality where we covered them up to make ourselves look good. When you cover up problems its guaranteed to increase costs and could possibly effect the quality of the product.
Being so young and growing up with this "culture" of visible problems, its hard for me to understand how a company could have long-term growth and sustainability without this "way of thinking". Now at the age of 40, it has become part of my life both within my work and home life; you could say its part of my character.

Toyota takes this process of "thinking" and "problem solving" to the next level. The expectation of all team members at every level within the company is to use the PDCA thinking process to tell your "story", and relate why this problem was "value-added" to the company.
I consider an A3 as a "Lean Communication Tool", to basically share with someone "how" I thought through this problem and "what someone needs to know" to understand; not everything I did to get there, which could be in some cases a very large document to read through.
For Toyota this is not respecting people and their value-added time, therefore a Lean communication tool such as the A3 is necessary to eliminate waste and can also be used as a development tool to teach others in the PDCA thinking. I've been blessed to have been "raised" in a company that expects this from its employees and to know how valuable it is to sustain long-term and development the next generation workforce.
Stay tuned for future blogs where we will dig deeper into the 8 steps of an A3.
Till next time
Tracey Richardson

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Company "Values"..What does that really mean to employees?

In Today's time you will find many companies have "posted"or hanging on their walls some type of Mission statement, Vision statement, guidelines, or what many consider to be the Company "Values". These are often placed in the lobby, production floor or throughout the office areas and can be very decorative and impressive to visitors walking through. My question to many companies I work with is: What does this really mean to team members or employees? Has the company invested time explaining what this really means? How they should "act"or as the japanese may say "behave" on a daily basis to "live" these values? When I teach Lean Culture implementation within a company I express my concern for these "decorations" on the walls without explaining "WHY" its important. (Check out my previous blog posts).

I believe a company must give direction with their selected values and "put-to- life" those expectations. I tend to call them "Tangible Actions" to the values. These actions should be something an employee can understand and integrate into their daily activities. For example these bullet points below could be considered "Tangible Actions" to the Values.
  • Have a Customer First approach (looking from the eye of the customer).
  • Having a "Line of Sight" to the Company Indicators when problems are solved.
  • Taking Ownership and Responsibility to making a difference in the workplace.
  • Visualizing the company goals and status in work areas or the production floor sharing with employees the current situation.
  • Judge each situation finding the facts using the "Go and See" for yourself approach.
  • Never giving up - a commitment to complete the task/problem at hand
  • Using a complete and timely process when solving problems (with the Customer in mind)
  • Follow a good "thinking process" to solve problems (PDCA management steps)
  • Ensure there is Thorough Communication between all stakeholders within the company
  • Develop Standards within the company to easily see problems when they occur
These are just a few "tangible actions" that can assist in creating a strong culture within a company. So the next time you see the mission statement hanging in a company's lobby take a second to ask yourself what does that really mean?
Til next post
Tracey Richardson