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Counting Down the Top 10 Viewed Posts of 2013 – 10 Thru 6

2014 is now in full swing.  Before 2013 is too far in the rear view mirror, I thought I would recap the Top 10 most viewed posts on Beyond Lean for 2013.

New followers of the blog can use this as an opportunity to read posts they might have not seen in the past.  While, long time followers can use this as an opportunity to re-read some of the top viewed posts.

This post will count down the 10th thru 6th most viewed posts of 2013.  Enjoy!

10.  Comparing Lean Principles to the 14 Toyota Principles (July 2010) – Previous Year Ranked #6 – The first part of a three part series where I compared the lean principles I learned from the Lean Learning Center to the Toyota Principles.  This post covers the first five Toyota Principles.

9.  True Mentoring (May 2012) – Previous Year Ranked #7 – This is my take on true mentoring versus fake mentoring that goes on in business today.

8. Strategy A3 Downloadable Template (April 2012) – A quick description of a strategy A3 with a link to a template that can be downloaded.

7. Guest Post: Selling Lean to People That Don’t Want It (July 2011) – Previous Year Ranked #10 – This is a post from Joe Wilson before he became a full-time author at Beyond Lean.  Joe talks about ways to sell lean to people who are not bought into the benefits of lean.

6.  Why Are Lean People Seen As Lean People? (February 2011) – Previous Year Ranked #1 – Exploring the question as to why lean people are not seen as more than just lean experts.  Looking at a process from end-to-end seems like a good business practice no matter what the role.

My next post will count down the Top 5 viewed posts of 2013.

No PowerPoint. You’re Unprofessional!

Over the years I have continued to learn how to communicate better.  Through lean I have learned how to communicate more clearly using illustrations and eliminating the “other” information that isn’t necessary to get my story told.

One tool that has helped me communicate more clearly is the A3.  The limited space really focuses me on what is important to talk about.  Understanding waste, and not wanting to duplicate my work I use my A3s in during discussions with groups of people instead of creating a multiple slides in PowerPoint stating the same words.  If I need a drawing to support my discussion, I use a white board or chart pad to draw it out, because the drawings can take time to recreate in PowerPoint.

We are taught the A3 is a communication tool.  Don’t duplicate work.  The story is important and that is what needs to be communicated.

WARNING!!!!!  Know your culture and where you are in your lean journey at all times.

After the first few times of using A3s and chart pads to communicate within my current company, I was pulled aside by a couple of senior leaders and told that I come off as unprofessional and not prepared because I didn’t use PowerPoint.

Having no filter, I asked if it was better to spend three hours working on the issue or three hours putting together PowerPoint?  I also asked how I came off unprepared because I could answer any question they had about the issue?  Aside: you might consider how you are talking with before being that direct.

The point is, the leadership and culture at that time were not ready to be communicated with in that fashion.

If you are in a similar situation, I would recommend using slides as a supplement to the A3.  Yes, it would be overprocessing waste, but it is better then people not listening because of a format issue and having to rework everything.

Model the Advantages of Using an A3

The A3 is a great communication tool.  It can help tell a story succinctly and clearly making it easier for people to understand your thought process.  An A3 will contain some background information, the current state, what the desired or future state is and an action plan to get there or measurements showing the success of the work.

Putting together an A3 can take some time.  It isn’t actually putting the A3 together as much as it is truly understanding the issue and stating it clearly and concisely.

When your manager doesn’t understand the time it takes to truly understand how to put together an A3 it can be frustrating.  As a lean learner, I encourage you to fight through that frustration and use the A3 to communicate with your manager or other managers.  Show them the power of tell a good story on an A3.

The A3 won’t be perfect, but this is OK.  If the others you are sharing it with understand your thinking then they can better add input.  This better input leads to quicker high agreement and quicker resolution.

Think of using an A3 correctly as taking your time to do something right the first time, like setting up a machine.  It may seem like it takes a long time but done right there isn’t as much rework because everyone understands quickly and you don’t have to have conversations over again because of the lack of understanding.  Just like the machine being set up right the first time and not having to make tweaks over and over.  In the long run, it is shorter to take your time upfront.

Eventually, others will see the benefits and the effects will spread.

Aligning Your Business

In today’s tough economic climate, it is even more important the work we do is aligned with the company’s goals and priorities.

As companies reduce headcount while still driving towards revenue growth, decisions have to be made about what are the top priorities for the company.  If you cannot strongly link your work to one of the company’s priorities then you should really question yourself and/or your manager about the validity of finishing that work.

Everyone in the company should know the priorities and should be asked to understand how their work is linked to achieving success on the priorities.

One good way to do this, is through strategy deployment.  This is process by which the priorities of the company are used to determine the priorities of the division and then those are tied to projects and/or initiatives for the current year.

In a good strategy deployment process, catchball is used to get input from the layer of management below.  This helps drive accountability and alignment throughout the organization.

If you cannot link your work to one of the projects/initiatives that is part of the strategy then you have to ask if it needs to be done.  Sometimes the answer may be ‘yes’.  An example might be updating your servers or you won’t be able to run some of your IT systems.  This may not be one of the priorities but it must be done in order to keep the business running.

It is good to capture the linkages on an A3 document and use that as your guide throughout the year.

It is amazing the power of alignment has on driving a company to achieving its top priorities.  Are you aligned?

P.S. ……. K.I.S.S.

Problem Solving…Keep It Stupid Simple (as in really simple).

Recently, this is the valuable lesson I learned in coaching problem solving using an A3 to show the thinking.

Typically, when I have coached problem solving using the A3 I have had the A3 broken down into big sections (Background/Business Case, Current State, Problem Solving and Root Cause Analysis, Action Plan and Results).  Under each section there were more segments that broke down the process to help try to go through the problem solving step-by-step.

With another group, by necessity, a colleague and I informed them of what an A3 was, gave them a 20 minute high level explanation on the big sections and a single point lesson to help guide them.  A week later the three A3s we saw were probably the best first pass A3s I have ever seen.  There was still some learning and some tweaking to do to tell a good story but overall they were very good.

Upon reflection, people that got the minutia explanation were trying too hard to “fit the form” and not use the A3 to show there thinking.  The coaching became much harder and the people kept focusing on filling the A3 out correctly.  This cause frustration and in a lot of cases people didn’t want to use the A3.

The group that got the high level explanation felt the freedom to explain their thinking any way they saw fit.  The A3s were quite different but they all had the big segments (at least through the areas they have progressed).  The questions and coaching around these A3s were much different.  More around different modes of thought and next steps in the problem solving process.  Not what do I fill in here.

Just like physical processes…keep it simple when teaching and coaching problem solving using the A3 as a tool to make the thinking visual.

What are your experiences?  Is simple better in your eyes?

Learning A3 Downloadable Template

If you look at the page links above you will see a page that has been added labeled Downloads.

This page will have files you can download to keep and use. The initial thought is these will mostly be templates that can be used, but I am not limiting it to just templates.

My intent is not for it to be a template just to fill in but a way for people to learn. I want it to be a tool that can be helpful to understanding lean and facilitate conversations.

Here is the template. There are two worksheets in the template.

  • SWI – Intent of Use – This is meant to explain the best way I have learned to use the learning A3. It tries to answer the questions of what is the purpose of the learning A3 and how to use it. It also, gives a standard operating procedure to go about using it.
  • Learning A3 – This is the template to start with. It leads you through several discussions on what business need is the learning tied to, what is the purpose of the learning, what behaviors and concepts will be the focus on learning and actions to take to reach your targets in the upcoming year.

Please feel free to download and use it. Any feedback on the ease and clarity of use would be appreciated.

Podcast with Joe Dager of Business901

Earlier this week, Joe Dager of the Business901 blog posted a podcast.  We did a couple of weeks ago.  Joe and I discussed using A3s to plan out learning opportunities.

It was a great opportunity and I appreciate Joe reaching out to allow me to share more of my thoughts on the use of A3s for learning.

You can check out the podcast here.

Learning A3

I am always looking for inspiration to improve myself, my work and my processes.  A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine caused a bright light bulb to go off.  The colleague mentioned developing an A3 to show the progress of learning for the people I am teaching and coaching.

Simple right.

A3s are used for solving problems, developing proposals and everything else.  Why not for laying out a plan to show what people are expected to learn during a project or coaching session.  Layout a standard or plan so expectations and progress becomes visible.

My colleague provided me with a format to go about developing an A3 for the learning to transfer to the person being taught.  Right away it made my thoughts clearer.  It allowed me to communicate easier what I was hoping the person would learn over the next year and how I expected to get them there. We were able to have a good discussion about expectations and a plan to get to the target.  Now we have something to use as a guide when we meet.  The plan also helps me ask better questions when we meet.

I plan on doing more and more learning A3s.  It is something I can also use before a kaizen event.  Layout what I would like the team to learn while improving the business.  There is no better way to learn then teach something and apply it right away on something that is a problem for you and then reflect.  A kaizen event is setup to do that perfectly.

A3s….it’s not just for business problems.

Strategy A3 Downloadable Template

If you look at the page links above you will see that a new page that has been added labeled Downloads.

This page will have files you can download to keep and use.  The initial thought is these will mostly be templates that can be used, but I am not limiting it to just templates.

My intent is not for it to be a template just to fill in but a way for people to learn.  I want it to be a tool that can be helpful to understanding lean and facilitate conversations.

Here is the template.  There are three worksheets in the template.

  • SWI – Intent of Use – This is meant to explain the best way I have learned to use the strategy A3.  It tries to answer the questions of what is the purpose of the strategy A3 and how to use it.  It also, gives a standard operating procedure to go about using it.
  • Strategy A3 – This is the template to start with.  It leads you through several discussions on what is your mission, metrics, targets, current business conditions and actions to take to reach your targets in the upcoming year.
  • Goal 1 Tactics – There are 6 of these sheets.  Only use the ones that you need.  It is based off the number of high level goals you have on our Strategy A3.  These sheets help take the initiatives from the Strategy A3 and go another level deeper to develop a tactical plan to complete the initiative and achieve the goal.

Please feel free to download and use it.  Any feedback on the ease and clarity of use would be appreciated.

Making Work Agreements Visual

Whenever doing work with another group or person, it is very important that everyone has agreement with what needs to be done and how it will be done.  Discussions happen between the parties and everyone seems to agree.  Then people go off and do the work and the next time the two parties meet there are odd looks and comments about that was not what the other person meant.

Recently, I wrote about the benefits of writing an A3 around problem solving.  When agreeing to what work will be done and who will do it, writing it down in an A3 format is very beneficial also.  The A3 can help foster a discussion about what was really meant.  Seeing the thoughts on paper in text or drawings makes it easier to communicate.

Another benefit I have found, is when there are disagreements and the thoughts are written on paper the focus seems to be on the content and not the person.  It doesn’t completely eliminate somebody wanting to attack a person and become defensive, but it does help to reduce the likely hood of this happening.

The more people can communicate verbally using a written format, such as an A3, to enhance the discussion the easier it will be for people to agree on what needs to be done and how it will be done.  And the next time the groups meet, the better chance of their being no misunderstanding as to the work that was done.

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