Monday, November 15, 2010

How many different types of A3's are there?

So what do you think about when you hear the term A3? I can remember back when I first started at TMMK (Toyota Motor Manuf. KY) in 1988 there were no computers or printers on the shop floor or offices. The term A3 was new to many of us; at least me. For a while I tried to figure out exactly what it meant the "A" the "3"? Finally my Japanese trainer explained it was just the size of paper. I remember being a little disappointed, I thought I was going to learn something very technical, little did I know . (grin)!

In my experience the majority of A3's that I completed were "Problem Solving" type A3's. That is where there is a quantifiable GAP in between "what should be happening", and "what is currently happening". On the production floor we gained a lot of experience with these types. I sooned realized after moving in leadership roles/management that other types of A3's existed as well. Today I will briefly describe the 4 different types of A3's and when to use them based on my experience.

• Problem Solving A3
• Proposal A3
• Status Report A3
• Strategic Planning A3

All A3’s should follow the PDCA thinking regardless of which type you are working on. The basic steps of (Plan-Do-Check Action) are:
• Make a Plan (Grasp the Situation) (Where you are versus where you want to be)
• Put it into Action/Implement (Do it)
• Check for Effectiveness (Modify if necessary)
• Reflect/Standardize and Share

Let’s take a look at each one and when can use them.

Problem Solving A3 – Please see my last blog regarding “When to use an A3”. I explain in detail the 4 Levels of Problems and when a Problem Solving A3 should be used. **Note – Not all problems will need an A3. The Problem Solving A3 will follow the 8 Step Problem Solving process (PDCA). They should always be quantified and measured, stating a clear Gap to solve. These are “caused gap” problems—meaning that we aren’t able to maintain a standard or ideal situation. Root Cause is not always apparent and a complete investigation at the GEMBA engaging people will be necessary.

Other types are:

Proposal A3 - A proposal A3 will be future state oriented, (where you want to be) in that you are trying to improve the situation by suggesting an idea. This is an improvement that is normally more focused in an area or department which supports the improvement of an indicator (KPI- Key Performance Indicator-ie. Quality, Safety, Productivity, Cost). The Strategy A3 is very similar but is normally focused more on Value streams and higher level processes related to the Company Business plan. You will start out by explaining the current state or background and why it needs to be improved. Is the current state affecting a KPI for the company? You may show some benefit analysis for the idea, then recommend how you will implement the idea with timelines and milestones. After the implementation begins you should evaluate effectiveness and have a follow up plan to ensure it’s sustainable. This is often called a “Created Gap”. You are trying to potentially “raise the bar” or improve the situation or standard.

Status Report A3 - A Status report A3 can be a specific report that is in direct relationship to a long-term type project that may need a progress report on a weekly, monthly or quarterly type basis. It may show a “plan” vs. “actual” status based on what the implementation plan/project expectations are. Depending upon the status you could be asked to develop a short term plan to get yourself back on the expected schedule if you fall short of a deadline. This particular A3 I did not use too often, but when I did it was normally focused on a product or model change that takes long term thinking/ planning to ensure success at the projects end date/line off. (For example – training, equipment, parts, processes, and manpower needs). If you follow the PDCA thinking it’s about asking the question at specific intervals – Where we are, and where we want to be.

Strategy A3 - A Strategy A3 is normally focused on the Company Hoshin (Business Plan/Strategy) from 1 to 3 to 5 and even 10 to 15 years out. My experience was mainly around the 1, 3 and 5 year planning. The Strategy and Proposal type A3 are very similar in nature as I stated before, the Proposal is more narrowly focused. It’s attempting to take the company from a current state to a future state and this is normally based on what the Business Indicators are telling us that needs to happen. These A3’s are normally a higher level A3 at a high level of leadership which could be a value stream between product and delivery that needs improvement. This is then cascaded downward throughout all the levels of the Organization and they are asked to focus their daily work towards improving the indicator. For example I may have excessive warranty claims, and I want to reduce these warranty claim through improving the quality of the product produced by X%. So this is a high level goal that needs to be tracked through the involvement and progress of the cascade at each level (daily work). Again each type of A3 should follow the PDCA thinking. This too can be considered a “created gap” A3.

I hope this gives you a little more insight as to the different types of A3's that can be done to enhance your daily work and align your activities to the "need" of your company.
Until next time,
Tracey Richardson

Monday, November 8, 2010

How do you know when do to an A3, and when to just solve the problem!!!

This is a question I get in just about every Problem Solving class I teach, so I decided to share some of my experience in when to know the difference.

** Disclaimer - this information/interpretation is based on my 10 yrs experience on the production floor as a Group Leader at Toyota; there were no written rules per say, it was more a "cultural" understanding which was learned through experience and doing.

So some of you may ask? What is an A3?--- So quick review (see previous posts on A3) it's an 11 x 17 size of paper that shares a story which follows the -Plan-Do-Check-Action (PDCA) "thinking" methodology I often share as the 8 steps.

So basically I categorize problems into different levels (1-4). Based on the level of problem it can determine when to "just do it" (solve), and when to document the "thinking" process to share with others (people development/engagement/consensus/strategy deployment).

Level 1 - Normally does not require an A3 to be officially documented but the "thinking" behind the A3 is always important. It is a problem a team member/associate can handle on their own most of the time; root cause seems more apparent, minimal resources are needed to implement a countermeasure. This type of problem is usually details within the actual work or process that they do at the GEMBA. They can normally see a discrepancy (even if there isn’t a standard defined necessarily)... they know this because of their knowledge of the process.

A good practice to develop the culture is that they talk about this with their line supervisor, so the line supervisor can "spark" the questions to further develop their thinking for the next problem and so on. So the problem is tested/solved... and there is no reason for an A3 to be written. There could possibly be some level of tracking that leads them to this... a tic-mark sheet, counter etc. This level should have the associate thinking everyday about when they are out of standard (leaders should develop standards with them if none exist--key to seeing abnormality)... sometimes when they are really "developed thinkers", no supervisor is needed to implement. My experience is that 60-70% of the problems will/should fall into this category once the "PDCA thinking" is practiced through the leadership asking the right questions. . (**Note- It’s always a GOOD practice to set standards, problems become much more visible when standards have been set!)

Level 2 - Is when it requires an A3 or at least the documentation to share the learning with others (developing people) as well as developing the ones responsible (Supervisors/Leaders). The correct thinking (PDCA) is always the underlying priority behind the A3. As I’ve been told, the A3 is only as strong as the dialogue that creates it; meaning the questions we ask regarding the process. So Level 2 - is when Level 1 problems may resurface. That for some reason the associate did not get to the correct root cause, ask enough “whys”, or not getting facts. It’s a consistent/ and or sporadic problem that no one understands "why" it’s happening (maybe Level 1 only got to a symptom and there is a deeper need for research/tracking/fact finding etc.). This level may also require stronger supervisor knowledge/support, and possibly the next level of supervisor. It could require resources like maintenance, engineering, tool and die, and higher level decision making authority. This level is more than likely affecting the KPI's (Key Performance Indicators- i.e. Quality, Safety, Productivity, Cost) of the company in some way. At this level a deeper look into how the Problem was defined is also necessary-- meaning are we tacking the true "pain to the organization"?... for example.... Sometimes we may frame problems in the sense of "productivity issues", but the bigger problem may be "scrap rate". Decreasing Scrap rate will in turn improve productivity/efficiency. So Level 2 problems are mainly for Line supervisors/Group Leaders and above with support of the associate. The supervisor would be responsible for the documentation of the PDCA process. I know Safety "near misses" would fall into the Level 2 category... vs. a team member seeing a potential trip hazard with a cord and immediately fixing it (that would be level 1 thinking.) My experience is that 15-20% of the problems are Level 2.

Level 3- This is when a problem/defect may "flow out" to the customer (internal or external) that creates downtime, quality or safety issues for the customer which in turn can affect your own company indicators. This activity should engage a higher level manager/leadership, and actually they would be responsible for the documentation of the A3, getting support of course from the line supervisors and associates. Engaging the plant manager/high level leadership should create the accountability at that level to be responsible for his/her production floor as well as developing their people to understand how this happened (Especially if there are set standards--if not then it should raise a flag to create standards). If there was a defect that got past an area/department and to the customer, this is unacceptable and should be counter-measured temporary (stop the bleeding) to ensure nothing else "flows out" as well as finding the permanent countermeasure (using PDCA) (again this is all initiated by the plant manager--they should be responsible at this level and gather the resources necessary, and involving their people to ensure this will not happen again and learn from it for the the next A3). This level could also be related to potential recalls, external customer complaints, missed orders etc. Also there could be situations in-house where there may be a major breakdown which could in turn shut your customer down. There could be an internal Safety incident where someone was hurt severely (or potential fatality - near miss), always things like a fire in an area of the building, chemical spills. Management being responsible and leading this level is crucial. Remember the associate’s capability is only as strong as their leader’s capabilities. My experience is that 5-10% of the problems are Level 3.

Level 4 - This level of problem solving is more of the "raising the bar" or proactive problem solving! This goes to my DAMI conversation - define-achieve-maintain-and improve.... going from maintain to improve is “raising the bar”. Some even call it "Purposely creating a GAP". This can also be called a Jishuken event, or Management driven continuous improvement event. I was involved with several of those at Toyota.... where we improved our productivity/efficiency by rebalancing manpower therefore not hiring new people. ***In my experience Lean was never about letting people go based on our process improvements!

Level 4 was a practice in seeing waste, asking the right questions - what should be happening vs. what is happening? Is this standard acceptable? Can we raise the bar to improve our company? It gets the people who are practicing level 1 problems to see deeper, think deeper and bring in that "line of sight thinking" (see previous blogs) to what they are doing is contributing to the company/business indicators. Going back to "Problems Solved=Job Security". This allows them to assist in the other levels of problem solving possibly having a better problem awareness therefore possibly preventing the Level 2 or 3 type problems. Jishuken’s should be part of the culture, not deemed as a "special activity". Unfortunately most companies are always putting out fires... this is a very LOW percentage 0-5% where companies actually purposely create gaps. :( ... Some would think it is crazy to purposely create a problem :):)

I hope this helps in differentiating the Levels of problems (1-4) and when to do an A3 and when not to. (***as I see it, based on my experience).

Until next time,
Tracey Richardson

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sharing "Key Learning points" from my class participants!

I will again apologize for my delays in posting; I am on the road weekly in hopes of helping various companies on their Lean Journey!! Wanted to share with you a great moment in one of my classes this week!

I had the pleasure this week of working with a Company on their "Lean Journey" and would consider them, like many, a Brownfield plant. As John Shook wrote in his latest newsletter to LEI subscribers --- Brownfield's are great opportunities to have an actual GEMBA (work area) to GO and SEE and get the facts. Greenfield situations can often lead to assumptions because the GEMBA may not be evident yet.

I did an exercise during my 2 day session there that I felt opened my eyes, as well as the participants in the class. They were able to see just how much they learned and how each person internalized a specific/different concept from the class. I gave each person 2 post-it notes and asked them to write down 2 concepts/key points they picked up from class over the past 2 days we have covered. For me, this was a "grasping of the situation" as the instructor, and for them; they can see a quick snapshot of others thoughts internalized from the class. Here is the list below; I put numbers by the ones that were mentioned more than once.

To get "Buy-in" with countermeasure implementation- 1

Use the 360 degree communication (Team, Supervisor-Stakeholder)- 2

Not jump straight to a countermeasure or blaming people first -3

Communicate the What - How - and Why to team members- 2

Ask more questions at the Gemba-4

Go to the Gemba-6

Gather info (facts) first before making decisions

DAMI (Define-Achieve-Maintain-Improve) process

Be a better Servant Leader-1

Use the Criteria Matrix for countermeasure selection

Think through the steps not just react (assumption)

Ask What should be happening? vs What is currently happening? more often

Use the Breakdown Tree for Root Cause analysis (5 why) - 3

Practice the A3 with Root cause analysis -2

Ask more questions at the process (where work is being done)

Coach, instead of manage, by asking the right questions

Get team member involvement/engagnemnt on the left side of the A3 to get better buy in on the right side

Work with measurable to the KPI's (Key Performance Indicators- ie Quality, Saftey, Productivity, Cost)

Get the facts not perceptions/assumption/preconceived notions about the problem

Gather deeper info about the problem (how to frame)

Don't spend a lot of time trying to make it perfect the first time

Ask questions

Use the Line of Sight Activity (Activity that helps align a worker's daily activities to the Company Business Plan improving the KPI's) --this is at every level of the Organization.

After looking at this, I said to myself "Wow, if each one of you go back and use/implement the "2" concepts you listed, look what you can accomplish as a Company in changing their culture!!! It was a nice moment for me and the Company which I feel gave them some empowerment to make a difference. It's amazing to visualize on a flipchart what all participants grasped from the training. Each one of them, in my opinion selected what might be most helpful in their situation and also I think you can also factor in learning preferences. I guess the essence of the exercise was to say-- It takes "you" to make the first change that has the ripple-effect in your company. It's up to you to make it a disclipline!!

Until next time,
Tracey Richardson

Monday, June 14, 2010

What is the role of middle management in a Lean system?

Hey guys.... check out my guest blog post on Mark Graban's (author of Lean Hospitals) Lean Blog. It discusses what is the role of middle management in a Lean System. thetoyotagal, Tracey Richardson

Monday, June 7, 2010

Download an A3 Problem Solving Report

Hey guys... visit this link to get a downloadable copy of an A3 I share in my Lean Problem Solving courses. It can be very helpful to see an example of an A3 that uses a good "thinking" process with visual tools. Check it out.!! thetoyotagal
Tracey Richardson

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Problem Solving Podcast E-book Transcript

Hey guys... I'm sharing with you the electronic book or powerpoint copy of the Lean Problem Solving Podcast that I did last month. Please check it out !! Please let me know if you have any questions. Remember Problem Solving is the heart and soul of Lean Implementation and changing your culture.!!!!! Thetoyotagal !!! Tracey Richardson

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Problem Solving really the Core of Lean Implementation

Check out my Podcast Interview on Lean Problem solving... downloadable on Itunes... for a new class I will teach in June for the Lean Enterprise Institute.

Problem Solving really the Core of Lean Implementation

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Tracey Richardson

Friday, May 14, 2010

Common Mistakes when we are Problem Solving

Hello everyone,
I again apologize for the delay in my blog posts, I have been on the road training quite a bit the past 5 months. I have enjoyed spending time with various companies on their Lean Journey as they learn, I learn. Thank you for the opportunity.

As I spend time at various Companies across the US teaching Problem Solving, I find there common mistakes made as they are learning the process. It's easy when you are learning to quickly develop bad habits, for example:

  • Many individuals in an organization do not understand the "Purpose" or- better put -- How does their actions in solving their problem relate to the Company KPI's (Key Performance Indicators-Quality, Safety, Productivity, and Cost Q,S,P,C) Each individual should ask - Why am I selecting this problem to solve? It should be aligned with the Company Business Plan (Hoshin).
  • Not utilizing the "Power of the GEMBA",--or often referred to as "Go see the work/process".!! I often see teams working together in a room trying to solve the problem by using their experiences, hypothetical guesses, and what their opinion is. I quickly disperse the huddle to "GO-SEE" with their own eyes the current situation. When you can confirm with facts, talk to the worker, you can describe much better the "Current Situation". Then you can utilize that information to see where you are ordering to the Standard. The difference between the 2 would be your GAP. So get out from behind your desk and GO-SEE, set the standard as a leader.
  • Not finding "Root Cause"-- It's crucial when problem solving to keep asking "WHY" until you get to root cause. Often times, because we get focused on results, we only get to the "symptom level" of the problem. It's then a short term fix, and the problem is destined to return. This is not a sustainable practice, when your problem solving....please ask WHY more than once!!!
  • Not measuring in performance terms-- There are 2 questions that should ALWAYS be asked when you begin problem solving. 1. What should be happening? 2. What is actually happening? The next level is to quantify the difference between those 2 questions. If you do not have a measurable GAP, then the A3 or Problem Solving report will be very difficult to measure on the right side of the A3. How will you know your countermeasure is effectively addressing the root cause unless you have a quantifiable GAP on the left side?
  • The last common mistake I will talk about in this post is crucial in my opinion. I often see companies "put on" Kaizen Events or Kaizen Blitzes, these can be called many different things but it can give off the impression that problem solving is only done on "special occasions". If a company's desire is to be successful their motto should be: Problem Solving-Everyday-Everybody. This was a common practice for me during my time at Toyota. It is the biggest difference I see when visiting other organizations/companies--it's deemed more as "special" than the "everyday" culture.
So if you are looking at Problem Solving or Lean Implementation remember these key points, they are crucial for your success and culture change. Until next time,
Tracey Richardson

Friday, January 22, 2010

Are you asking the right questions?

The more I teach problem solving "thinking" at various companies these days, the more I realize that its not just about following the specific steps to problem solve, or filling out an A3 to tell your story...but more so asking yourself or others the right questions. I will borrow a quote from my friend, colleague, and mentor John Shook; he said it perfectly in his column at

"Lean management is very much about asking questions and trying things, or encouraging others to try things. Lean management itself is not much about providing the right answer but it is very much about asking the right question."
As I have discussed in past blogs, Genchi Genbutsu is a essential element to get the facts. In American terms it means to Go and See at the GEMBA. In Today's environment we tend to rely on our past experiences, tenure, or what we feel is the best countermeasure based on the time we give ourselves to really get to "root cause", rather than invest in Go and See. Not only is that important but as you Go and See as a leader and a problem solver its essential to ask yourself or others the right questions.

For every problem the questions could change, but there are simple ways to inquire what the current situation may be. For Instance, using a the 5 W's as a stratification tool, or even the 4 M's, P's or S's . See below:





These questions below may help initiate your inquiry for yourself or others solving problems.

What is the real problem?
What should be happening?
Is there data to support?
Who is it affecting?
Does it happen on all shifts, time frames?
Does this happen certain times of the year?
Where is it happening? which area?
How many times has this occurred?
Is it on a specific machine, part?
What is the standard or expectation for this problem?
Is there a process? Have you gone and seen the process?
Does this involve a supplier?
Does this happen in all work processes?
Does this affect productivity, safety or quality?
Does this involve a team member's safety?
What have you investigated so far? and How do you know?
What are the causes, or why is this happening?
Are there similarities or differences?

There are many other types of questions when you are dealing with specific topics in your work environment but these should "spark" your thoughts when your at the GEMBA ---Asking the right questions.
Til Next time,
Tracey Richardson