Reader Question on Process Implementation to Prof. Sobek

Hi Mr Sobek,

My name is Michael from Indonesia.

I found your article regarding A3 process in http://www.montana.edu/dsobek/a3/. As it is stated, A3 is a really powerful tools to find the root cause of a problem. Moreover, from another article I found from internet, A3 is also a powerful tools to craft a step-by-step problem solving way of thinking for employees.

What I would like to know more is about its implementation. Based on my internship experience, implementing A3 in a company is not an easy thing to do. In one company that I have been doing intern, A3 is seen as a “burden” to its employee. The company use A3 do “documented” the problems that has been solved and every year, they have a competition about which A3 is the best. The employee feel that they can solve the problem right away, based on their experience and instinct. For me, it’s kinda make sense since they have been in the factory like every day and they would have natural instinct to solve problems without using complicated A3.

So, if you were in that condition, what would you do to implement A3 making culture in the company?

Thank you.

Regards,

Michael

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Hello, Michael from Indonesia,

You have identified a common problem with A3’s.  Whenever the A3 report is seen as a documentation tool rather than a collaboration tool, the tendency is to write it after-the-fact and therefore it becomes an extra burden on people.  To realize the power of A3 reports, they should be used through the course of the problem-solving process.  You build an A3 a section at a time, and use it to communicate with key stakeholders about the nature of the problem, root causes, potential solutions, implementation plans, etc. in order to gain organizational alignment on the best path forward for the organization.  You should do this as you go, not just at the end, so that you bring the other people along with you and there’s no need for a sell job at the end because everyone has followed the process and had chance for input along the way.

For A3’s to be used in the fashion requires a couple of things to be in place:

  • If the problem can be fairly easily solved by one person working on his or her own, don’t bother with an A3 unless you want to do it for practice.
  • If the problem requires agreement or buy-in from multiple people, especially if they are from different work units, and the solution is non-obvious, then that problem is a good candidate for an A3.
  • Leadership should demand to see A3’s in-progress and check to see that they are being used to communicate across organizational lines.  They are sending the wrong message if they only want to see “completed” A3’s.
  • Setting up a mentoring system so that every person working on an A3 has a mentor reviewing their A3 and, more importantly, their problem-solving process can be a huge benefit.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you.  As an intern, you are probably fairly limited in what you can do to produce organizational change.  But you can practice good A3 thinking in your work to increase effectiveness in really getting problems addressed at the root cause level.

BTW, another website that might be useful to you is www.a3thinking.com. Good luck!

Sincerely,

Durward K. Sobek II, Ph.D.

Professor and Program Coordinator of Industrial & Management Systems Engineering

Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering

Montana State University

Bozeman, MT  59717-3800