Monday, January 30, 2012

A3 Problem Solving Template - Overprocessing?

Looking for an A3 Problem Solving Template?
Why not just use a blank piece of paper?!

Keep reading, there's some links to templates below ;)

Many of the best A3's are written from scratch, with no fancy computers. I find that when I need to draw little graphs, flow charts and arrows, nothing beats a pencil and an eraser. Sure, you can power up your desk top, size an appropriate excel or Visio sheet, add diagrams and text, but if it's a race, I'll beat you with my pencil!

For me, a computer generated A3 is a good example of Overproduction, one of the Lean 8 Wastes, but there are times when a template does come in handy, especially as a quick handout to those new to lean.
A3 Problem Solving Template?

If you've never heard of an A3 and you have no idea what I'm talking about, I will describe one as succinctly as possible. For that is the purpose of an A3, to summarize your problem or project on a single sheet of paper. The A3 refers to the size of the paper (a Japanese or European size very close to an American 11 x 17). Since many problems can be quite complicated, the challenge of an A3 is to present the material as clearly as possible; short and to the point, i.e. succinctly.

An A3 makes a great presentation tool to describe your problem or plan to others. However, this tool has evolved over many years to become more than just a presentation aid. The A3 has become a problem solving method that stands on it's own. In fact entire books have been written about it, like Art Smalley's:  Understanding A3 Thinking: A Critical Component of Toyota's PDCA Management System.

How does the A3 report become a problem solving technique exactly?

Here's where a template comes into play. An A3 contains certain critical information. There's a problem statement, and there's a current condition analysis. Then there's a planning section, with future condition goals. Finally, the action steps are lists. Now, no two A3's are identical and many list points differently, but the main idea is that this single page document creates a plan for a specific problem. It becomes a strategy map that can be referred to and keep the team focused on a goal.

Developing an A3 requires you to do some research to find out what exactly the basic problem and current situation is. Following the A3 steps ensures you keep on track to reach your goal of solving the problem. And that's where templates can be handy. The template is a guide to make sure you've covered all your bases. An A3 template can be a training tool to help you understand the A3 process. What are the steps? What information do you need? What is important and what can you leave for later?

Also, if you have a record of past situations and and problems, you'll be able to look back to
see how you were able to solve these issues using the A3 templates and similar problem solving techniques you may have tried in the past.

For some great examples of A3's, check out the A3 dojo at

Download some A3 Problem Solving Templates below:

Since every problem is different, there are several basic A3 templates.

I found a bunch of different A3 templates on the Oakland University website, home of the Pawley Lean Institute. There's a basic A3 Report template, with prompts, for reminding you what to put in each section. Then there's two other A3 templates, one with six headings and prompts and one with seven headings that's blank.

Since the template really consists of just a bunch of headings, you will likely be working on your own blank paper. You can use the A3 with prompts to remind you of the information required, and space your own headings accordingly, depending on how much text you're putting in each section.

As a general rule, the current condition is written on the left and the countermeasures and future condition on the right.

Click here to get your A3 problem solving templates from the Pawley Lean Institute.

I've added these A3 templates to my list of helpful lean tools and downloads.

Remember to head over introduce yourself on my page designed specifically for YOUR self-promotion!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Toyota University Lean Video

Here's an interesting simulation from Toyota University. Having been in the "lean business" since before the term lean was coined, Toyota has developed all kinds of lean or TPS simulations over the years for internal training. Occasionally the "Toyota University" is opened up to outsiders, but mostly this is an in-house training centre used by Toyota and their suppliers.

This video shows one of the lean training simulations developed by the experts at Toyota. As you can see, the game uses toy car manufacturing (what a surprise!) to illustrate pull production. Different coloured kanban locations show which type of car is required.

You can see the last guy with the stop watch taking a car at specific intervals from the coloured locations. He is the customer. When the car is taken, the coloured spot is replenished with a car from upstream. This triggers the fabricators to build another one of that colour. A classic kanban set-up!

Has anyone had any experience playing this particular game? Has anyone "graduated" from Toyota University? Add your opinion to the comments below!

Toyota University Simulation Video:

 I've added this video to my list of lean games and simulations!

Please feel free to check out the following additional resources,

Monday, January 16, 2012

Single Piece Flow vs. Batch Production - Video

Single Piece Flow vs Batch Production

Most lean games and simulations run in phases, contrasting the traditional batch production techniques with lean single piece flow processes. Whether you use paper airplanes or pennies, these games are perfect for really showing people the differences. When you experience single piece flow in a hands on activity, it's easier to internalize the key parts, so it will come back to you when you're working on your own projects.

For those times you don't have the time or space to run a full-fledged game, however, nothing beats video. Sure, you can describe single piece flow by comparing Subway sandwiches to a batch barbecue party. Examples help to hammer the point home. But many people are visual learners and need to see for themselves.

The video below shows the primary benefit of single piece flow using a simple, graphical illustration. Single piece flow shortens the lead time. It's as simple as that. You can show this with a lean game and get your teams to compete against each other.

Or you can show this 47 second video! In "real time", you can see how quickly the customer receives their order. You can see the reduction in inventory. You can see less work in process.

And you can see the order fulfilled in 29 seconds vs 60. Half the time! Imagine how much time you save with a longer chain of processes.

Because the video's so short, you can easily work it into your session, between phases of a lean game or after a more intensive sit and listen session.

Just remember that when you shorten your lead time, you become more flexible. And in these uncertain economic times, who wouldn't value flexibility over heaps of inventory.

I've added this video to my list of lean training videos. Check it out and feel free to comment on your favourites!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

TQM Training Video - Learn Lean by Stacking Chairs

The video below shows a group of people stacking chairs. The simple task of moving chairs from one spot to another has been broken down into fundamental steps, analysed and improved. The different methods used show how a lean approach and the fundamentals of Total Quality Management can reduce overall cycle time and improve quality.

As a training tool, the video is interesting to watch and should spark some valuable discussion. You could also try it with your own group by simulating the steps shown in the video.

The simulation is broken down into seven steps or phases. Each one demonstrates an incremental improvement in the previous process. I've described the steps below in case you don't have time to watch the 10 minute video, but I encourage you give the video a chance. It has excellent production value and some quirky humour.

First phase:
Free for all. Everyone takes one chair at a time, and adds to the new stack. Each person has to walk with a chair, then walk back to get another one until all chairs are restacked.

Second phase:
Bucket line. Form one line and hand each chair down the line. Reduces walking and improves cycle time significantly.

Third phase: 
Go faster! The participants are "encouraged" to go as fast as possible and not to let any issue stop the line. Result stacks are disorganized and falling over.

Fourth phase: 
Introduce defects and allow the defects to continue through the line. Argument and mayhem at end of line.

Fifth phase: 
Catching defects before they continue. No effect on final quality.

Sixth phase: 
Re-balance work and add two people to bottle neck process, the chair stacking. Significant cycle time improvement with no impact on quality.

Seventh phase:
Realize that there is still too much waiting in system and remove three people. These people are used to set up an additional line, increasing output even more. Shows flexibility of process, since output can be increased or decreased depending on customer demand.

I've added this video to my list of lean videos and since it's a great lean game, I've also added it to my list of lean games and simulations.