Poor, Misunderstood A3
As you are aware, nothing makes the fur stand up on my back (if I had fur) more than when I hear people refer to A3 as "a form". Or even higher fur when people talk about doing "A3 reports". The process of A3 is a lot of things, and I promise you it is way more than a form or God-forbid, a "report". Over the past almost 20 years, I have led, coached or been on >10,000 teams, so I hope you will allow me to offer my insight.
I think of A3 as more of a code of conduct. Here is a list of 5 things that A3 "IS":
A3 is a tool to create a culture where people stop jumping to solutions in problem solving. The A3 form itself is designed to walk us through the scientific method of problem solving (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) because each box is one of those steps, and we can't move to the next box until we are satisfied with the previous one.. It is designed to make sure a 3 to 5 person team does the DMAIC in order! There is a reason why we like to do the DMAIC in order...….because we don't like solving the same problems over and over. A3 gives everyone practice doing the DMAIC in order, until it becomes habit!
A3 levels the playing field-I don't care if you are the Shah of the company, if you find yourself on an A3 team, all titles get checked at the door. Everyone has equal status and it doesn't matter if you are the VP of Operations or the summer intern. Nobody is more or less important than anyone else. A3 is not about influencing by rank or status, but about 3-5 people learning how to gain agreement! A3 teaches managers to stop answering questions with answers (because they think they have to) and teaches how to answer questions with open-ended questions. The difference is, as managers we get to learn just how smart people are. A3 values every brain, not how big the office is.
A3 is about practicing respect for people-if a process improvement impacts someone's job, they have had better be part of the thinking! Remember that it is disrespectful for me to fix your job. Nothing kills people's morale worse than being on the butt end of a lousy process. Most times, when people are doing silly, backward, wasteful processes for 40 hours per week, they were not the ones who developed and implemented said process. Ironically, a person who has been doing the same job for 5 years has been doing that job for 10,000 hours. That alone pretty much qualifies that person as a process expert and should at least be part of any changes!
A3 is a way for managers to develop leaders-I like to say that A3 is about developing leaders in your company, and the process improvement is second, like icing on the cake. Imagine an entire population of people willing and capable of pulling a team together, going through the DMAIC, thereby improving the process and then being capable of getting up in front of their peers and teaching everyone else what they did (at the A3 closing)? When you think about it, that is the behavior we expect of leaders. Think of A3 as a training ground for future leaders.
The A3 process invites people to work at the top of Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs! It is a way to expose the incredible genius and creativity that is hidden in your business. To remain competitive and win, we all need to be clicking on all cylinders. A3 is a process to leverage diversity, gain agreement and work as one to delight your customers.
So, if you see me out sometime, please refrain from all this talk about A3 being a form or a (gag)report. There's nothing scarier than me with the little fur I have on my head standing up.