Think Before You Leap
Getting Started, Part Two: What Do You Know About Why You Are Doing This A3?
Last week I talked about the need to think before writing when starting your A3. The first thing I would suggest is to put the paper away for now. Here are some questions to consider before you ever start trying to write: What exactly is your purpose in doing the A3?
- Who is the audience and what do they know about the problem situation?
- What is the problem or need you are trying to address?
- How much do you actually know about what is happening with the problem or need?
Why think about these questions before you start writing what you have in mind to say? Two basic reasons: First, in creating an A3 you are not going to be able to simply write down your thoughts. You are going to have to communicate—to present your thinking in a way that is evident and understandable to others. That is the most critical part of doing an effective A3.
Why question how much you actually know about a problem and what your audience knows? Because you know what you have seen and what you know but others don’t know the same things you have seen and know. In fact it is very likely they have seen and know only part of you what have seen and know. You are going to have to think about what you have seen and experienced that they most likely have not and then try to describe your problem, its cause(s), the value of your countermeasures and the key features of your plan as clearly and concretely as possible so they can “see” what your proposed actions are based on.
And you are going to have to be prepared for your audience responding with information and questions about things they have seen and heard about the situation that you have not. Remember that everybody’s view of a situation is unique to their experience and perspective. Often the push back about an A3 is because the author and the audience aren’t looking at the same facts. Finding out what others in a situation know that you do not is one of the primary reasons for going to the gemba. When you are there you should not only see firsthand; you should also listen with open ears and an open mind. And sharing your A3 in draft form as you develop it in the “nemawashi” or vetting process is just as important as a way to fill in the gaps in your knowledge of the actual situation of a problem condition.
The second reason for asking others what they know that you might not is your credibility. Your grasp of the problem situation and your analysis for its cause(s) must be based on facts that you can demonstrate (not just your ideas). Is it readily apparent that that the countermeasures you suggest are appropriate and feasible? And is your implementation plan practical and supportable with all else that’s going on in the organization?
That’s what you need to show in your A3 because as soon as you share it others will rush forward with their own information, questions, opinions, assumptions and ideas for solutions. And your A3 will have to stand on its own merit – the soundness and thoroughness of the problem solving work and thinking behind the story it tells. And you will have to be open and prepared to align your perspective and thinking with what they know that you don’t. So you need to be sure you know – and can show – what you think you know.
Are you thinking you didn’t realize creating an effective A3 was so challenging and perhaps starting to wonder how you got into this? That’s not such a bad thing to be asking yourself if you have a choice to do or not to do an A3. In fact that relates to the next—and fundamental—question to explore: “How clear are you on your purpose for doing this A3?” Doing and sharing an A3 are a lot of intense thinking and work. If you are not clear and focused on the purpose of your communication you are not likely to be effective in telling your problem solving story.
Eric Ethington; Mark Reich; Ernie Richardson; Tracey Richardson; John Shook; David Verble