• Bill Greider

The Beachball A3

By developing an A3 process in your business, it is possible to do dozens, if not hundreds of "kaizen events" (small, reversible improvements) every year. Imagine everyone spending 15-20 very productive minutes every single day eliminating the non-value added work (the things your customer will not and should not have to pay for) from their own processes. The 8 wastes. The goal is to engage the brainpower of every single team member in the organization. Once the ball is rolling, people spend time as A3 leaders or as A3 team members. The role of managers is to demonstrate that continuous improvement is important to the organization, and help a3 leaders be successful. After awhile, this all becomes the way you do business....proceed slowly, consider all options, gain consensus, implement rapidly....then teach everybody else what you did.

I have watched cross-functional self-directed work teams solve problems that have plagued the organization for years! It's like anything else most of us do in our life. Crawl first, then stumble around, take a few steps, walk, run then sprint. Same with A3. If you want to be the best A3 leader, do a lot of them! Difficult problems require people who are good at leveraging the diversity of the team, gaining consensus, digging to root cause (you only get good at that by doing it a lot also) and then implementing countermeasures. I like to say these types of A3 teams can hit 95 mile-an-hour fastballs high and inside out of the park.

But, we all have to start somewhere. When getting started with A3, people don't hit 95 mile-an-hour fastballs high and inside out of the park. It's more like hitting a beach ball with a wiffleball bat. Simple projects to teach the scientific method of problem solving. As companies get started doing lean, the projects are 20% about ROI, and 80% about developing a culture of ownership and teamwork. A3 is one of the best silo-busters I know. Start people with easy wins while you teach them how to select and engage a team, teach them not to jump to solutions, and then get them over the hump in presenting to their peers (scary for some).

I always get companies rolling with "employee suggestion" type projects. To identify them, you need to go ask them what is slowing them down. One of the first projects for one company was a box stapler that one employee was sick and tired of. It jammed constantly. Come to find out, it was an equal opportunity jammer. Everyone got to spent an extra 10-15 minutes with that baby multiple times per week. She picked a team, went through PDCA (plan-do-check-act), and did an A3 closing in front of a very happy group of peers. I often hear "we've been complaining about X for years." A3 is a mechanism to get things like this out of your life for good. When it goes on the A3 board, it gets done. Period.

Just don't start with the fastballs, people will be hitting them soon enough, I promise.

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