You’ve probably struggled to get your clients or your colleagues to embrace the use of A3s in problem solving.
We’ve all heard the excuses: “It’s too much work.” “I don’t need it.” “I don’t have enough time to fill them out.”
No matter how much you explain that it’s not about the paper or the format, it’s about the thinking; that it doesn’t have to look pretty; that it’s essential to make your thinking visible; that it creates focused and structured discussions; that it follows the scientific method, etc., etc.—people still don’t embrace your A3-sized gift from the Toyota gods. It's just one more stupid lean hoop to jump through.
And really, why should they? They’ve done okay in their careers up to now without ever filling out an A3. Truth be told, until the CEO starts asking for A3s filled with eraser marks instead of four-color Powerpoints with animation, you’re going to have a hard time convincing them that the A3 really is a better way to go.
Here’s another approach: don’t ask people to fill out an A3 when they’re working on a problem. Don’t talk about metric-sized paper. Don’t talk about the scientific method.
But, when your client or your colleague comes to you with a problem, have a discussion. Ask open-ended questions about the problem. Tell her you want a more clearly defined explanation of the problem. Challenge her to refine it. Then ask her to get some data that supports her decision to attack this problem.
After she leaves, write down the problem statement on an A3, and keep it in your drawer.
When she comes back with the information you’ve asked for—the “Background” section described in Managing to Learn—have another discussion or two. Make sure that she has the facts, that they’re accurate, that they’re relevant. Then send her away to draw a picture of how the process works and get data to support her understanding of the current condition.
After she leaves, fill in the background section of the A3, and keep it in your drawer.
You see where this is going. Repeat the process for all the other sections of the A3.
Make the A3 a real discussion between the two of you without first asking her to fill out an A3. When you’re finally done working your way through all parts of the A3, then you can show it to her. Congratulate her on doing her first A3. Show her how your structured conversations were actually the A3, and that the paper was just the documentation. Help her see that writing one really isn’t a burden or extra work.
When I work with organizations that are new to lean, I always start by asking people to fix the (little things) that bug them, an idea straight out of Paul Akers’s 2 Second Lean approach. After they make that improvement—putting their computer monitor at a more comfortable height, changing the font on a customer service screen, getting a better tape dispenser in the warehouse—I tell them, “Congratulations. You’ve just done lean. Nice job.” That’s usually a surprise to them. At the outset, most people think that lean is some impenetrable exercise involving Japanese jargon, lots of talk about Toyota, and elaborate calculations relating to manufacturing flow.
Of course, there’s a lot more to lean than those simple fixes. But the experience of finding something that’s not working right and fixing it is the first step towards realizing that the way things are today isn’t the way things have to be tomorrow—and therefore it’s the first step in developing a lean mindset. Once they have that positive experience, it’s a lot easier to get them to start thinking about other improvements. And that’s the beginning of the problem solving culture you’re striving for.
The same is true for this approach to the A3. Rather than telling people that it’s the A3 way or the highway, make it easier for them. Just guide them through the A3 thinking process . . .and write the A3 yourself. When you show it to them, they’re usually pleasantly surprised that they’ve actually done an A3. They’ll see that it’s not that much work. They'll see that it's not a pointless exercise. They’ll see how it can be valuable in helping to solve their problems.
If you work at a company where A3s are already baked into the culture—it’s just the way we do things here—you don’t need to go down this slower road. But if you’re trying to establish the A3 as part of the culture, the evidence is pretty clear that teaching an A3 class and then telling people that they have to fill one out every time they work on a problem is not terribly effective.
Or, if you don’t like my approach, write an A3 yourself on how to get people to embrace using A3s. See what you come up with.