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Thinking about A3 Thinking

27/11/2014

A3 Thinking arose out of Toyota Japan’s Kaizen and TPS (Lean Manufacturing) developments during the 1970s. It is a philosophy centred around the use of the A3 Report as an organisational problem-solving tool and as part of the PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) framework.

Toyota Managing Director Taiichi Ohno’s firm belief in making things visible at a single glance – anecdotally refusing to read more than the first page of written reports, preferring instead to view and discuss problems first-hand – lead to the development of the A3 Report, named after the 11x17” standardized paper size typically used in them.

SEVEN ELEMENTS OF A3 THINKING

  1. Logical Thinking Process

  2. Objectivity

  3. Results and Process

  4. Synthesis, Distillation, and Visualization

  5. Alignment

  6. Coherency Within and Consistency Across

  7. Systems Viewpoint

The A3 Report is used to guide the development, implementation, and review of a project or problem-solving exercise. It summarizes the important aspects of this process on a single sheet of paper. This typically includes an assessment of the current state, identification of the desired target state, gap analysis, a framework for implementation or experimentation, and reflection on the completed project.

An individual A3 Report may involve a number of separate techniques in order to best communicate specifics of the project to team members, and these will differ depending on the goals of the report. Common illustrative techniques, usually derived from Kaizen and Lean Manufacturing, include SWAT analyses, KPI analysis, Flow Maps, Value Stream diagrams, 5 Whys, Affinity Diagrams, and so on.

Used correctly the A3 Report and wider A3 Thinking philosophy can be a major aid to decision-making, problem-solving, continuous improvement and other business activities. It is important to apply A3 to suitable problems – clearly defined, ongoing, deeply analysed, not too small and not too big – and to be sure not to get caught up in the form of the report and lose sight of the function.

A3 prioritizes quality communication over quantity of information, replacing dozens of pages and PowerPoint slides with a single concise summary. As part of a continuous strategy of evaluation and reflection such as the PDCA framework or Six Sigma’s DMAIC, A3 Reports provide an excellent way of communicating planning, process, and results both between and within teams.

Our Experience

Together with our partners at TVS Supply Chain Solutions in Chorley, Epitomy have been trialing the A3 Thinking approach for the development of our Next Generation Product Information Catalogue. This major development project will have a huge influence on the future direction of our Product Data Management and E-Tailing offerings, and further announcements will provide more details on this.

For the moment we will focus on how A3 Thinking helped Epitomy and our partners in developing this new strategy. Members of the Management, Development, and Marketing teams from both companies met to strategize the necessary features of the new solution and how these compared to our current offering.

Centring this discussion around an A3 Report allowed us to easily define the reasons for the project, the current state of our offering, the target state, and what developments would be necessary to bridge the gap between the two. By involving staff members from different areas of both companies we could ensure that multiple points of view were represented, leading to a better and more considered result. Everyone involved in this initial session felt that it had been a huge success and that the use of A3 Thinking contributed greatly.

The A3 planning process has driven our development work between the initial session and our recent follow-up. Our new PIM Data Hub solution, CMS websites and dealer information services, and a number of other recently released or soon-to-be announced projects have all benefited from being relaed to the solution approach and rapid experiments defined in the A3 Report. As more modules for the Next Generation Product Information Catalogue are produced over the coming months, the A3 Report will continue to provide benefit even after its official completion.

EPITOMY/TVS 9-ITEM A3 FRAMEWORK

  1. Reasons for Action

  2. Initial State

  3. Target State

  4. Gap Analysis

  5. Solution Approach

  6. Rapid Experiments

  7. Completion Plans

  8. Confirmed State

  9. Insight

In addition to the Next Generation Product Information Catalogue project, Epitomy has also used A3 methods to plan the implementation of our internal CRM upgrade program. We planned to use our upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft’s Dynamics platform as the catalyst for a major change in how our sales and marketing team – and the company as a whole – interact with our internal business systems.

As with our other A3 experiment, key stakeholders worked together to succinctly describe the current state of our systems, our ideal goal state, and the barriers preventing us from moving from one to the other. We conducted appraisals and benchmarking exercises looking at our partners’ use of CRM systems and planned out solution-driven experiments to implement a final process.

Although we are, as yet, only novices at applying A3 Thinking to our processes, we are already seeing the benefits. The A3 Report has proved an ideal tool for assisting with our strategic and process-oriented planning, and is one that we would recommend to our business partners and others. As we continue to gain experience with A3 methods and evaluate their effects on our processes, we hope to see even greater results.

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