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