Ever wondered why your attempts to increase performance seldom seem to succeed in the long term? The secret is in that well known saying:
Two heads are better than one
Your knowledge, expertise and experience may make you an expert; however, every situation is unique so you may not be aware of all the influences at play. Involving the team members directly working in the area concerned gives you access to more information.
In addition conversation is a much underrated way of generating insights, making connections and generating solutions. Even the act of speaking your own thoughts out loud very often helps you clarify your thinking.
To get maximum benefit from expressing your thoughts you need to have created a safe environment where people can reflect back to you what you have said. You also need to have a learning mindset of being open to that feedback.
There is a problem with unstructured conversations and meetings. The tendency is for problem talk alone to amplify the issue and make it appear more complex. This is where the A3 Report comes in to provide structure to problem solving, continual process improvement and increasing performance.
The first thing to stress about the A3 Report is that it brings structure to activities in a variety of formats to suit the project or activity. What is important is that it’s primary purpose is to communicate visually on one piece of paper!
In Toyota Motor Corporation, where it originated, even the top man uses it! Wow! Now let’s think about this for a moment. Instead of multi-page reports, memos and recommendations, they use just one page!
You really have to be clear about your point and make your case or plan really, really clearly and focused to achieve that. This helps to concentrate minds to solve an issue.
There really is no set format for the A3 Report, other than the size of the paper, and that it generally follows the SAPDo cycle, see below. The example below is just a starting point. Whatever format you start out with should be adjusted as needed.
The book The Toyota Way Fieldbook, by Jeffrey K Liker and David Meier, shows four common formats under two story types:
PROPOSAL TYPE STORIES
REPORT TYPE STORIES
The A3 Report is fundamentally built upon the Deming Wheel of Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) and the visual, collaborative workplace. We recommend starting at STUDY, i.e SAPDo, to emphasize an inquiring and learning mindset that is asking “What IS happening?”
Before I continue an important word about SAPDo. It is so much more than simply an improvement technique. When Dr W Edwards Deming presented this from 1950 onward in Japan, he presented it as part of a way of thinking and managing.
You can and should apply SAPDo everywhere.
Back to the A3 Report and looking at the example below you will see that the left-hand side comprises the problem situation or background followed by the analysis. The right-hand side usually contains the implementation plan, the results and future plans.
The above example is intended to demonstrate the simplicity of the A3 Report. You will notice the use of bullet-pointed lists along with all the images that might be expected in a format that is intended to be visual. The convention is to use up to four bullets.
Let’s now look at each section in turn.
Four bullet points summarize the problem. Notice the use already of the Process Behaviour chart to visually put the most recent data point in context. Interestingly it also shows that it has not always been bad news in the past.
The visual display of data actually reveals that there has been occasional outstanding performance in the past, which you can see clearly offers the opportunity for learning about how to improve the current situation.
Collaboratively engage with as many people as possible to really understand the issues. It is especially important to understand things from your customers or service users point of view.
In this section the analysis can use any of the Seven Analysis Tools to visually present data that has been collected to understand the current or ‘as is’ situation. In this case a Pareto Chart and a Cause & Effect Diagram (aka Fishbone of Ishikawa) have been used.
Again these analysis techniques all benefit from engaging with as many others as practical.
This simplified version of a project plan or Gantt chart serves to show actions decided upon as countermeasures to the issues revealed by the analysis. Gain a consensus on the way forward with as many people as practicable who will be affected by the possible changes.
Once again a Process Behaviour chart visually shows the dramatically improved performance achieved by changing the system. You can include other data also in a visual or graphical format, e.g. financial benefits and so on.
Finally this section shows possible future courses of action, opportunities or plans, which naturally will lead to further A3 Reports.
By using the A3 Report as a focus for incremental improvement you stand a much better chance increasing performance in the long term. Ignore the temptation to treat solving each problem as a one-off, use it as the foundation for building a culture of ongoing improvement
Finally, I would like to re-emphasize the role of the A3 Report in engaging and communicating with others throughout the organisation. It makes maximum impact with colleagues and management with the minimum amount of paperwork.
The goal of the A3 Report is, on one piece of paper, to visually communicate , gain consensus, solve problems and get results. It does this by
Thinking and communicating information effectively, i.e. in a “Lean” way
Collaboratively solving problems and improving systems and processes
By being highly visual, with written information in no more than four bullet points
Using a format that fits the story/situation whether it is for a proposal, problem-solving, status update or information purposes
Ultimately the power of the A3 Report comes not purely from the report itself. Instead it comes from the opportunity to develop a culture of a learning mindset that is needed to make the A3 thinking part of your organisational system.
Hope you have enjoyed this blog and found it useful. If you have any questions do please use the contact page in the menu. Do please share this blog with your friends, colleagues and connections. Looking forward to sharing my next blog with you. Thank you for reading this blog.
PS If you are interested I can share a simple template for an A3 Report in Microsoft Word if you contact me.