The ABC's of A3 Performance Improvement

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Having introduced the basics of A3 problem solving over my last two columns, I thought it was appropriate to go over the key issues that you must be wary of while ingraining this problem solving culture into your service company. Many of these key issues are universal in nature and relevant to any team-based problem solving process.

You need to remember that adopting an A3 structure for problem resolution (please see my two earlier columns, The A3 Problem Solving Way: An Introduction and The Seven A3 Problem Solving Steps in Detail) is not as simple as it looks. You and your company’s leaders will need to be determined and tenacious in driving its adoption to ensure that it becomes a way of life for your organization.

The Key Issues of A3 Problem Solving Adoption

I call these key issues the ABC’s of A3 performance improvement. The letter A stands for Alignment, B for Brigade, and C for Course. To understand what each letter means in detail, please refer to Table 1.

Table 1

A Alignment The alignment of the problem with organizational priorities and business imperatives.
B Brigade The way the team functions. It includes leadership and team behaviors that the team must demonstrate throughout the problem solving process.
C Course The course of action that a team needs to take while facilitating problem resolution. It includes the methods and approach that the team must adopt in order for problem resolution to be successful.

I have worked out a check-list (refer to Table 2) that outlines what measures (attributes) need to be in place under each key issue in order for the problem resolution process to be successful. Being able to check off "Yes" by each item is a sign that your team has a good problem solving process in place.


Table 2

Attributes Yes/No
A = Alignment
The problem directly or indirectly impacts the business priorities/business imperatives
The problem’s resolution is well supported by the organization’s leaders
The problem’s resolution has buy-in from all relevant people both internally and externally (i.e. process owner, etc.)
The problem is not tied to a business, location, process, etc. that is in transition
The problem’s solution will have a desired impact on customers, processes, employees, suppliers, regulators, or other stakeholders
B = Brigade
The team has representatives from all relevant stakeholders who are either directly or indirectly impacted by the problem
Team members have clearly defined roles and responsibilities
Leaders spend time reviewing the progress of the problem’s resolution; they also mentor team members in developing problem solving skills
Team members have received adequate training around tools, team functioning, etc.
Team members generate adequate ideas and listen to each others’ views in order to reach consensus on the solution to the problem
All team members are treated with respect; their capabilities are leveraged to the fullest extent regardless of their hierarchy in the company
Throughout the problem solving process, the team has engaged all relevant departments/functions/teams that will be impacted by the improvements
Team members regularly visit the gemba (workplace) to get issues clarified around the current problem, the problem’s counter-measures, and the final results of the problem solving efforts
C = Course
The problem has been clearly defined and lacks any ambiguity
The problem solving steps have been followed to a tee so that no shortcuts have been taken
The team is clear on how it will measure success after the project is completed
A few of the team members have experience managing change and associated resistance
The A3 sheet is displayed in the gemba to assist the team in following the A3 problem solving process and in charting the team’s progress of the problem’s resolution
The team is using relevant tools that are making a visible impact to the problem’s resolution
The team uses root cause analysis to come up with counter-measures and does not rely on apparent causes for solving the problem
Once the team comes up with the problem’s counter-measures, the team religiously tracks the progress of their implementation to guarantee a timely deployment
The team has put in place an adequate organizational regime that will ensure that the outcome from the problem solving effort is sustainable
All learning is captured and communicated to all concerned

A3 Problem Solving Conclusion

Successful A3 problem solving requires many little things to work in tandem with one other so that the right environment is created to enable a team to use this business improvement tool effectively. As I mentioned previously, the A3 problem solving tool is not that simple to deploy. It’s critical that your team not only rigorously follow the seven steps of A3 problem solving, but that it also adheres to the ABC’s of A3 performance improvement. This proper procedure will make all the difference in arriving at a sound solution to your problem.