Helping Make A3 Work, Part 4 (of 4)

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 11-25-09

This is my last in the 4 part series on A3 problem solving. I’ll be answering more questions on a webinar hosted by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers which I hope you’ll check out and join. On to our final questions.

Q8. Is there software that can help me with this?

Yes and no. The no is more important. Computers can’t problem solve for you, at least not yet. They can guide you, they can help you crunch numbers, but they can’t think for you. A3 is really about your thinking process. I encourage people to actually start just with a pencil. When you start in this way, you focus less on the format and structure and inserting graphics and printing formats. You focus instead on what you are writing or drawing. Second, we like to encourage people to draw pictures. The reason for this is that when you draw a picture, you are much more likely to draw how a system operates, its activities, connections, and flows, than just focus on results. That is the behavior we are trying to drive: focus on the system. Once you have developed the right habits and thought process, I have no problem with people using computers and software to help them write, share, and even store their A3 work. If done well, even a simple Google front-end search engine can make knowledge sharing from A3 work more useful for the organization as a whole.

Q9. Who should be using this?

In general, it’s for anyone. But it’s really for people who have some open-endedness in their problem solving options. If the problem solving options are narrow and controlled, then opening up and exploring the thought process and assumptions within the problem is not necessarily productive. A3 can be used for daily small problems such as “why did the equipment fail?” by technicians or supervisors. It can also be used on strategic problems by executives such as “why did our market share drop?”.

Q10. I have 20 slides of data; how do I decide what needs to be included in the current reality?

The current reality should capture your insights and revelations of the problem. It takes a lot more thought to capture your understanding in one quadrant of a piece of paper than it does to cover 20 pages. Being able to communicate a story succinctly is evidence of how well you understand it. This doesn’t mean you have to get rid of your 20 pages of data. It doesn’t even mean you can’t show it to people. But the A3 itself should at least tell the story. This is the purpose. Everything else is backup and support.

Have more questions on A3? Post them here or come to the webinar and ask them there.