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Why A3s Won’t Work in My Organization (Part One)


For all the coaching we provide about the value of A3s and their underlying thinking, we recognize that actually following this approach is hard work. And not simply because developing these habits can be counterintuitive at times; but because so many human roadblocks litter the path of lean. There are all too many reasons why the A3 process can be thwarted; and we’ve heard most of them. So, in the spirit of teeing up these problems by first trying to understand them better, here are some challenges you might be facing. What others can you suggest?

CHICKEN is to EGG as A3 process is to MENTOR?

Sorry for the flashback to your standardized testing days.  But this is a common challenge to getting started. In fact, every time I teach a group about A3’s I am shocked if I do not hear,  “I shouldn’t be learning about this alone, my boss should be with me. I need a mentor to coach me.” You cannot gain traction without the support of your leader—and yet your leader may not be buying in without seeing how this approach can work for you. Unfortunately, no matter your position in an organization you could apply that line of logic, and soon we have the CEO saying, “I need my board of directors to attend an A3 workshop with me!”  It can become a classic chicken-or-the-egg dilemma. 

In a situation like this the best way to start is simply…to start. I would suggest you employ a classic lean method – TRY – by running an experiment.  You can choose to be either the mentor or the student, but pick a role and try. And then try again. Now let’s explore one approach a little more closely.


Picture this scene. Jim, an employee of four years, is sitting in his office when his boss Deborah walks in. Deborah explains that they are having issues in developing their monthly financial forecasts for corporate, on time, and she would like Jim to take the lead in solving this problem.  As Jim is asking a few clarification questions Deborah pulls out a blank 11 x 17 paper and writes the words, “THEME, BACKGROUND, CURRENT SITUATION, and TARGET” spaced out along the left-hand side.  She then explains to Jim what is meant by each section and asks him to document his thinking in this flow. By the way, she adds, before beginning to analyze the situation, “can you fill in these sections so we can discuss your findings before you proceed?”  And so we encounter another A3 implementation paradox. What might be running through Jim’s mind at this point?  Perhaps, “why do you want to see my THINKING?” “you usually ask me for answers, why the change?  Did I do something wrong?” “Don’t you trust me?”  As the process unfolds and Deborah begins to ask questions at every stage of Jim’s project (in an effort to mentor him!!!), Jim is now wondering, “why so many questions?”

The moral of the story is, if you choose to introduce A3’s into your organization, then you must be willing to play the role of the mentor. And when you do, take the time to briefly explain the process to your subordinates.  It would be great if you could give them the same A3 education you received, but we often can’t afford to send EVERYONE to training.  Use a staff meeting to explain the concept.  You could even tap into John Shook’s webinar for his book, “Managing to Learn.” https://www.lean.org/Events/WebinarHome.cfm   

Once the employees in your organization understand the basics of the process then give it a try.  Provide each person with a problem to resolve and have them utilize the A3 process, with your mentoring, to get agreement in the organization and implement an appropriate countermeasure.  Establish an A3 beachhead in you department.  As you utilize the process, take time to reflect on what is working, what isn’t and why.  Ask your employees for feedback on your effectiveness as a mentor.  Ask them if you are asking the right questions at the right time or are you providing “the answer?”  As you successfully engage others beyond your department, the concept WILL spread.  Trust me.

What do you think?

What other ways have you found that A3s fall down in your organization?

What did you do about it?








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