Category Archives: A3

Communication Or Announcements?

Photo Source: On The Sauce

You have a new change coming, do you communicate or just announce it?

I define communication as two-way where input and feedback is requested and announcements as one-way “this is coming or it’s already here” kind of messages.

Announcements are not an effective way to bring your organization along on your Lean journey.  People feel done-to or it appears as though they have no voice.  Announcements give the impression of very top-down leadership even if you had some of the front-line staff involved in creating the change (intent versus impact).

For people to be engaged in the change, ensure you are seeking input and feedback from those affected.  Firstly, before you make a change or set a target condition you should have gone and seen the actual process.  Use this time in gemba to get feedback about the problem.  I have seen flipchart paper put in an area for staff to add input prior to developing counter-measures to trial.  Use staff meetings to ask for thoughts before you start improving.

When developing counter-measures, share ideas with stakeholders or involve them in the trial.  Ask them what works or what further adjustments should be made before it becomes the new standard work.  Their input will make a better counter-measure and help them be invested the change.

After the standard work gets implemented, have leadership and key coaches on the floor soliciting feedback and providing clarifications.  The counter-measure may have some missing pieces that are only discovered after “launch” or people may not understand it enough to follow it.  This communication helps your organization sustain the improvement.

Honestly look at your “communication” strategy.  Is it really just announcements or are you actively asking for feedback to be seriously considered?  Did you bump the communication discussion from every agenda and now stuck in the mode of announcing because a counter-measure is developed and ready to go?

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Filed under A3, Change Management, Communication, Consulting, Improve With Lean, Lean Hospital, Lean Hospitals, Learn Leadership, Nemawashi, Problem Solving, Project Management, Respect For People

Advice For First Time A3 Authors

Writing an A3 is a wonderful tool to solve problems and share the thinking that goes into resolving issues.  I have some tips to help first time A3 authors that I hope will be valuable for you.  (If you do not know what A3 is, I recommend visiting the A3 Thinking FAQ webpage by Sobek/Smalley).

  • Get a coach – Coaches will help by asking you to describe the thinking behind what you write.  They will challenge you sometimes to dig deeper or in another direction.  They will be an outside pair of eyes to provide feedback on how understandable your A3 is.  There are many benefits to having a coach.
  • Choose a small scope project in your area first – A3 can be used for large scope or cross-department issues but I find it is easier to learn A3 by focusing your first issue within your area and a smaller scope.  Look for recent fires your team has put out and use A3 thinking to understand the root cause so the fire will not happen again.  You may also look for workarounds that exist for your co-workers or other known issues* as inspiration for your first A3.
  • Do not write your A3 alone – You will be the only author that puts pencil to the 11×17 paper but ensure you incorporate the feedback you get from the stakeholders you talk to.  The people you talk to in the workplace will provide more depth around the true issue you are facing, they will give background information that is highly relevant, they will help uncover root causes you haven’t considered, they will help tweak your countermeasures and target condition, and much more.  Writing in their feedback will help you understand the problem better while engaging the people doing the work.  In turn they will be more likely to change because you involved them in creating the countermeasures.
  • Recognize that A3 takes time – Sometimes new authors think an A3 will be quick.  Observing the problem and talking with stakeholders can take time.  Be patient and recognize the time you are taking helps the quality.  Your first instinct might be to jump to a solution but A3 will require you to gain a deep understanding of the problem before you consider a solution.

* Sometimes people try to work on suspected issues for their A3 (issues with no data or feedback from others that something is a problem).  You may feel it needs to be investigated but there is nothing indicating you have a problem.  For first time authors, it will be easier to focus on known issues.

Does anybody else have advice for first time A3 authors?

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“Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen”

Remember the song “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen”? 

I was thinking how appropriate some of the lyrics are for people who see problems in their work area everyday that never get fixed.  Encourage your teams to make problems visible so they can begin to solve issues. 

  • Make a whiteboard where everybody writes problems they see. 
  • Have blank A3 paper handy so someone can begin to uncover the root cause. 
  • Remind people to not just keep problems limited to memory because in a fast-paced workplace it is easy to forget or trivialize as time progresses.
  • Assign or facilitate someone in the workgroup to own the resolution of the problem.
  • Reinforce a culture where leadership supports problems being visible and not used as an easy punishing device.

Giving your team an avenue to express the problems they see will bring massive improvement to your organization.

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

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Filed under A3, Business, Change Management, Communication, Encouragement, Improve With Lean, Learn Leadership, Personal Development, Productivity, Respect For People, Visual Communication

Create A New Reality Via A3

Jamie Flinchbaugh wrote a fantastic post called Grabbing the A3 Tool from the Toolbox for the Industry Week’s Best Plants conference on A3 problem solving. 

I like his take on writing the target condition.  He states “This is not the result you would achieve; this is how you will change the work in order to get the result. We don’t just want to uncover solutions to problems, we want to design the work to create a new and better reality. Bad systems beat good people, and our job is to change the system.”

The rest of his article is worth reading to help get a sense of your purpose for using A3s.  Are you using it as just another tool or as a method to get Lean thinking at all levels of your organization?

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

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Book Review: Managing To Learn

Managing to Learn Managing to Learn by Shook

rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Managing to Learn” is an excellent book for managers and coaches of A3 authors/advocates. John Shook is a true sensei with 11 years of Toyota history and real world experience in helping organizations with Lean transformations. I have been learning a lot from his incredible blog posts recently as well.

My organization is about 5 months into our A3 launch so I have been researching a lot for best practices and ideas. I initially thought this book was going to be a “how to” guide for the author of the A3.  You can probably understand how to write an A3 from this book but it is not as explicit as Sobek/Smalley’s bookI believe managers and coaches should read both books.

Where this book truly shines is getting into the head of the A3 mentor.  A lot of Lean books are written from an academic standpoint but this book feels more like a day in the life of someone actually doing the work.  The pressure the manager feels organizationally to get things completed in contrast to allowing the A3 author time to learn is a true struggle I have seen in Lean transformations.  The book has a part where the manager is dealing with multiple A3 authors all at different stages in their learning.  I know these are true mental challenges for coaches so it is nice to relate to a character going through the same things.

Coaches can learn a lot from this book to help the A3 author’s growth and deep understanding.

Some great things I learned from the book is how to encourage more than one counter-measure, using respect through conflict, helping the author make valid decisions and transition from author to advocate, pull-based authority, using 5 whys after implementing in the check/act cycle, and how to help the A3 writer become a coach themselves.

I think this book would be interesting to Project Managers as well.  The last few chapters offer some great insight on how to deal with iterative changes and dealing with cultural resistance.

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

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Always Be Coaching

One of the best was to learn and improve is to recognize your mistakes.  I recently missed out on an opportunity to coach in the moment to help someone learn how to solve a problem.  I hope the outcome of writing this post will etch into me the principle to always be coaching

I met with a doctor recently who was telling me about some frustrating problems he was seeing.  He said he did not know where to go to have someone fix the issues he saw.  I instinctively told him who the new manager was to help him.

My initial feelings afterwords was disappointment.  I was surprised a member of a somewhat mature value-stream didn’t know where to begin to solve problems on their own.  I have been developing a suspicion that value stream managers are carrying all the improvements on their backs and daily Lean thinking hasn’t infiltrated the front lines (not counting improvement workshops).   This interaction with the doctor seemed to reinforce my suspicion.

I reached out to a colleague who helped me see how I missed the opportunity to show the doctor how to identify the problem and root cause.  We have standard tools like A3 and assessment plans that could have helped the doctor own the problem while he worked to develop a counter-measure.  The manager I referred him to could be a key stakeholder and guide for the doctor to uncover what he needed to gain a deep understanding of the problem instead of being the contact to just fix it for him.

The nice thing is this is not an irreversible mistake.  I plan on connecting with the doctor again to see how he is progressing and then offer coaching!  One recent powerful article from John Shook has inspired me to continue my development as an apprentice sensei: Coaching and Questions; Questions and Coaching.

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

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Tips For Sketching

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Dave Gray created this informative 5 minute video; Some basic rules for napkin-sketching (RSS readers may need to open post to view).  The video shows easy-to-remember principles for creating visual language (merging words/numbers with shapes and images). 

My colleague and I have been pushing ourselves to always include a drawing in every meeting, especially when the conversation starts spinning.  You will be amazed how sketching can make complex ideas understandable.  This video may also inpire A3 authors to make things more visual.

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