Four Ways to Use A3s.
Many people use an A3 document for problem solving, but actually A3 documents can be used for many other management activities. Often these result in saving management time. There are four ways to use A3s as a one-page report at Toyota to:
- Make decisions on a stated PROPOSAL (Plan.)
- Solve a PROBLEM (Do.)
- Communicate the STATUS (Check) of a specific project or activity.
- REFLECT/SHARE (Act) on learning or information.
As such all four types of A3 follow their own Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle and each helps, saving management time.
Reporting performance status in many companies can be complex and wasteful
, creating a huge amount of unnecessary work and overburden. That’s why I am sharing a real example of the power of using a Status A3 to help free up managements time.
Typical Layout of a Status Type A3
Senior Management can Save Time Using a Lean A3.
After joining the senior team of a large manufacturing organisation (34 global locations.), I attended our monthly performance review. This involved the 12 functional leaders and the divisional CEO. The Senior managment spent two days of their time in theses meetings. We would be lucky to cover half of the agenda items proposed!
Reporting used 100+ pages of PowerPoint presentations. Each function produced 100’s of metrics that nobody ever reviewed. We couldn’t see if we were winning or losing. Each report was different in layout, format and content. More worryingly, critical customer problems were continually surprising the CEO, as they had not been exposed early enough.
We challenged the situation by redesigning the whole reporting process and introduced a Status A3 report (see picture). This dramatically reduced the time needed down from 2 days to 4 hrs (70% reduction!)
Using Time Saving Productively.
The time needed to review performance reduced down to only 3 hours!, which we then used to review and track Hoshin (Strategy) improvement action plans instead. (Previously we never managed to discuss them). We recovered a whole day of precious management time. The time was used for “Go See” activity on the shop floor in order to grasp the real situation. We also conducted additional strategic product reviews, something we only did once a year before!
The A3 Status report provides a standard to concisely feedback the performance of each function. We only escalate the problems that need support. Such issues trigger separate meetings for a deep dive on the topic using a Problem type A3. A report from each function (such as sales, engineering, operations, finance and HR etc) feeds into the overall divisional report. This gives a clear monthly snapshot to see if we were winning or losing (Red/Amber/Greeen status).
We targeted that performance reviews be done in 15 minutes each. Therefore, every function was heard and held accountable. This truly made each of us think about communication in terms of:
- The relevant information the team needs.
- What we each need in terms of support.
The A3 status reports were provided 3 days in advance. They can then be pre-read, as the goal is not to go over all the of the sections but only the red items and key points. With them all being in a similar format it didn’t take long to understand all 12 functions quickly.
By thinking about the why, what, where, when, who, how and how much of status reporting
- Ensured Health & Safety and Voice of the Customer were always top priority items.
- Introduced checking on management routines / activities to ensure they took place.
- 60% reduction in the number of KPI’s tracked by focusing on vital few.
- Customer problems escalated to senior level and made visible before they became critical.
- Assessed risks going forward on a monthly basis – not just rear-view performance.
- More robust system to follow up to management team actions and problem-solving activities.
- 70% reduction in time spent reviewing monthly performance by the management team.
Using a Status type A3’s forced us to use the right amount of information and by following a process, provided a standardised method of communication that is easy to recognise and read for all of the organisation. Designing your reports using A3 Status document makes you think carefully before committing peoples time, energy and resources to do something. As a result, you will be more effective and efficient than before with your management activities and time.
You can learn more about the other types and uses of A3 documents, with examples for each type, by completing our Skill Level 1 Basic Knowledge course, available on our Lean learning Journey platform. To start, download our templates!
We offer direct coaching support to help improve your management system activities. Saving management time using A3 thinking enables leaders to focus what they are hired for – improvement.