A sheep in sheep's clothing

In working with a client this week, I learned that there can be serious cultural obstacles to embracing structured problem solving (what I'll call "A3 thinking" in this post -- sorry, Jon Miller). A worker at one of my clients recently confessed that she was anxious about talking to colleagues in other departments about her A3. She needed to get background information about how this problem was affecting other areas of the company in terms of cost overruns, rework, etc., but she was afraid that her coworkers would be suspicious of her questions. Even though the company doesn't have the entrenched fiefdoms of a giant 10,000 person firm (it's only about 150 people), there's still a deep-seated wariness of someone from another functional silo poking around. She was also worried that her colleagues would see her questions -- and her A3 -- as merely a cover for her ulterior motive: a justification for her pre-determined and preferred solution.

Creating and sustaining a culture committed to learning and continuous improvement ain't easy -- if it were, we wouldn't still be talking about Toyota. (And I'm looking forward to reading Jon Miller's new book, Creating a Kaizen Culture.) But it seems to me that one critical step is in the process is to undertake A3 thinking with a true spirit of open inquiry.

You can't go into an A3 with a pre-determined solution. The A3 is a vehicle to structure your learning process and help you communicate your learning effectively. It's a visible way to guide your PDSA cycles. It's not a sales technique (although it does ultimately help sell your solution), and it's not a magician's misdirection. To use it in these ways is to breed cynicism, suspicion, and resistance.

An A3 is not a wolf in sheep's clothing. It's just a sheep.