A3 Communication Advice

A client asked me to give some pointers pertaining to A3 presentations and communication points. Here is a list of ten things that I mentioned and a few words of advice pertaining to each point. The following list is not exhaustive by any means and is just intended as some points of practical advice for thought starters.

1. Be a good listener

In order to be a good communicator you must practice the art of listening. Listen before you present and find out what the audience is expecting and or needs to know. Listen to “body language” during an A3 presentation and of course listen and react to questions during your presentation. Listen as well at the end of your report presentation and plan your next steps accordingly. Don’t fall into the trap known as “two mouths and one ear” syndrome when presenting your report.

2. Be prepared

There is no point in presenting an A3 unless you have put some effort into it and are prepared to present. Of course this does not mean that your A3 has to be 100% complete or perfect as it never will be especially in the beginning. To some extent you will always be presenting a “draft” version of your report. However don’t present a report to a large group when the report is not ready to be shared or disseminated widely. The main exception to this piece of advice is of course in the very early stages of an A3 when you are looking for some initial feedback. Even in this case however I suggest that you stick to smaller groups or individual sessions and explain to them that you are at a very preliminary stage. In addition make sure you are adequately prepared to present what you have drafted so far. A boss in Toyota once commented to me that not being prepared was sending a signal to the audience that a) you don’t respect them or their time, and b) you are incapable of managing your own time and affairs. Those are good words to keep in mind. Balance your need for feedback and discussion with proper respect for the other parties time.

3. Get the facts straight

Few things are worse than a report that later has to be retracted for reasons of error or omission. Don’t draft A3’s based upon hearsay, rumors, or just general conversation. Take time to go and observe the actual process in question and get the facts straight. Obtain data and other useful pieces of information that contribute to the fact base for your report. If any information is preliminary, limited in scope, or tentative, etc. be sure to state that up front to the audience to avoid any misunderstandings.

4. Logical order

The A3 template is your aid in this regard. The generic pattern of explaining the background, current situation and problem, goals, analysis, countermeasures, checks, and follow up is intended to make things easy for the reader to follow. Don’t make the audience wonder where you are going next or confuse matters by following an illogical order. Don’t explain your checks or countermeasures, etc. before they know what the problem is.

5. Concise delivery

Plan on getting through your A3 in just a few minutes. Don’t recite a five minute speech on each little part of the report. Give a concise summary of the total story. Often this is called giving your “elevator speech” to the executive. Let the audience guide you where to spend more time. Don’t guess and force unnecessary information on the audience. Often reports can be done quickly and efficiently and not take up an hour or more of meeting time when done correctly.

6. T Shaped

By the term “T shaped” I mean practice the discipline of being both broad and deep where needed (but not everywhere). The typical A3 report has multiple boxes (Background, Current State, Goals, Analysis, Countermeasures, Check, and Follow up, for example). In any given review you will cover the whole (think top of the T) every time but drill down (the trunk of the T) only as needed. In initial meetings there may be more discussion on what is the exact problem or opportunity. In later reviews the emphasis or discussion should shift to the analysis of the problem and countermeasures. Later reviews should spend more time on the checks confirming the effectiveness of the items implemented. Realize that not every presentation will go the same and that the drill down on the A3 report depends upon the audience and where you are in the process.

7. 5W 1 H clarity

Avoid using bullet points and blanket statements like, “The team will implement improvements”. Use the 5W 1H method for exactness and detail. Who will do What by When? Where? Why? How or How much? These are basic questions that the audience should want to know. Anticipate the questions and have good answers drafted in the A3 report.

8. Check for comprehension

Along with good listening I suggest that you actually stop at certain points of the A3 and actively check for comprehension. For example after the background and current state section are presented ask the audience if this is clear especially if they are silent. Stop again after the goal is presented and your analysis for example. See if the audience agrees with your reasoning and thinking on the matter. If not then stop and discuss this until it is safe to proceed to the next step in the process.

9. Ask questions

This may sound similar to the point above but I am encouraging and different twist. Don’t assume that you will have all the answers when you present your A3 or pretend to know things that you don’t for certain. Many times an A3 presentation is a good opportunity to ask questions of experts or executives in the room. Write out your questions that you might have in advance of the presentation and discuss them if and when the time presents itself. For example you might have analyzed the problem one way but suspect that there is another way. Ask if the person you are presenting to has a different way of thinking about how to analyze the problem.

10. Always confirm next steps

Even after a successful A3 it is a good idea to verify what the next steps are in the process for your self and others that are affected. Do you or someone else need to collect more data for example? Who will do this, how, and by when, etc. If you are requested to do something in addition to what you have already done make sure your understanding of the request is correct and confirm how you will proceed, etc. if needed. Lastly of course figure out when is the next time you should plan on giving an update on your A3 report.

I did not touch upon the specific contents of an A3 here or the mechanism by what you will deliver (LCD projector, handouts, etc.). Those are highly situation specific and require some actual observation to comment upon. These ten items listed above are fairly basic but often overlooked. Keep these (and others you might have as well) in mind and it should make for a smoother presentation in the future.

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