The A3 Problem-Solving Process

One of the most effective problem-solving approaches used by Toyota is the A3 report. "A3" is actually a paper size (11" x 17") that was used at Toyota to keep problem-solving documentation consistent, structured, and clear.

I recently spoke with
Daniel D. Matthews, who spent 14 years as trainer, coach, and implementer of Lean Manufacturing at Toyota and recently published a book titled The A3 Workbook: Unlock Your Problem-Solving Mind. I asked Dan: "What would you say is the biggest mistake people make when trying to solve problems and how can the A3 problem-solving process help?"

Here is his complete response:

"The one mistake that is consistent from class to class is that participants jump to potential causes or even countermeasures before they fully understand the characteristics of the problem.

My first step is to coach them to ignore their natural inclination to take some kind of action. In the A3 problem-solving process, you are encouraged to delay acting on the problem until you have stated it clearly and precisely.

It is critical that you identify the facts that explain what is actually occurring and try to make your first 'sense' of the problem more specific. To do this, you must remove the subjectivity and replace it with facts.

To accurately depict the current situation, it is important to look at existing data related to the situation. Make sure that you go and see the situation for yourself; don’t rely on others to provide you with the information you need.

The data you gather will also help you later in the process when you have to break the problem down. To truly understand the problem, you must break it down into specific characteristics. The key to solving any problem is to follow the process and let the facts lead you instead of acting on your opinions and feelings."

Are you using A3 reports to solve problems? Do they hasten the path to the root cause?


Lean and Human Resources

I first met Cheryl Jekiel -- vice president of Human Resources for the Flying Food Group -- at an annual Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) conference a few years ago, and she recently published a book titled Lean Human Resources: Redesigning HR Processes for a Culture of Continuous Improvement.

I asked Cheryl to succinctly explain just how organizations can achieve greater success by applying what's now called "Lean Human Resources." Here is her response:

Better performance requires knowing where you are, followed by setting the right goals and then taking effective steps to achieve them. Your goal achievement process works best when business managers and HR Managers partner together to involve everyone in the workplace -- which for many of us is a significant challenge. Many (if not most) attempts to improve results fail when your management team tries to go it alone. Applying Lean to the Human Resources (HR)function can provide a roadmap for how your organization can avoid the common mistake of leaving HR on the sidelines while you develop and execute your strategies. Building performance based strategies into all your people-related processes, such as recruitment, training, performance management and rewards, is not only the best way you can achieve new levels of success, but it prevents failure from leaving the HR out of the equation.

In addition, the positive impact of involving employees in the daily goals of your organization and understanding the needs of your customers generates noticeably more motivated employees. This enthusiasm creates a positive momentum that generates even more productivity and better customer service on all levels. In addition, more involved employees are great candidates for enlarging their job content to include more of their skills, such as teamwork, problem solving, and process improvement (which are often left untapped). Lean HR provides methods for putting more into job responsibilities in a step-by-step manner, including what processes must be changed to allow employees to participate more fully on a daily basis.

Lean HR is not a program to run through your organization, but a whole new way to utilize the talents inside your organization. Your customers will be quickly able to see that your organization is one where everyone is involved and on the same page about 'the customer comes first.' The results will also reflect satisfied customers who are willing to pay more for products and services from an organization that accesses their people more effectively

Do any of you work in organization in which the Lean initiative has Incorporated the Human Resources department? Were there any initial barriers? Did it ultimately enhance success?