Last week I discussed the value in using the A3 Planning process, what an A3 plan looks like and why they have become a great management tool for companies of all sizes. Most company leaders seem to innately understand the value of developing an A3 Plan at the strategic level for the next year. But the process is also very useful for Solving Problems, Developing a Proposal, Analyzing the Status of a project and more.
Now that you have decided to use an A3 Plan, how does the process really work? As Jim Womack, founder of the Lean Enterprise Institute says succinctly, “It takes two to A3”. By this we mean, it is critical to the success of developing a solid A3 plan to create a dialog between a manager and a subordinate, or a team and an executive. A3 plans are the opposite of “top down”, they often start with a team or an individual but always involve a higher level person who will make decisions and a subordinate or a team that will be expected to do most of the work. We have all been involved in plans or strategies that were inherently decided by a superior and imposed on an individual or a team, in many cases these plans are doomed to failure from the beginning due to lack of buy-in from employees.
So how do you start the process?
Remember that the foundation for a good A3 plan is the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) management model, better known as the Deming Model after its chief proponent, Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Begin with the first section, which is really the Plan portion of the A3, and is also the fist page of the two page plan. Someone has to begin the process, it can be a manager or a subordinate or even a small team. Following are the primary components of the first section:
- Title or Theme: What are we talking about? At the strategic level it is useful to make a True North statement, where True North is the “primary business objective our company needs to accomplish”
- Background: Performance, gaps and targets
- Current Condition: Reflection on last year’s activities – use graphics, charts or other visual tools to really tell the story, such as sales and profitability.
- Goals: What the primary goals for the year or whatever timeframe you are working on?
- Analysis: What is the rationale for this year’s priorities?
- Specific Priorities: What are the top priorities for the company during the next year?
After you have a draft version of the first section, the next step is to share this with others in the company, superiors and executives, managers responsible for other areas of the business and the people who will be affected by the plan. This is called the “Catch Ball” process. The idea is to play catch, back and forth, with everyone who will practically have a stake in developing and executing the plan to make sure it is done properly and reflects everyones’ viewpoints.
When you have the first section done as completely as possible, it is now time to begin planning the action. This is the second section and focuses on the Do, Check and Act portions of the plan. Follow the same process described in completing the first section. Someone starts articulating each of the following components:
- Plan Details (Do): Activities, Responsibilities and Resources
- Target Results & Timelines (Check): Specific metrics for each activity so it can be successfully measured
- Follow-Up & Unresolved Issues (Act): To start with, document anything else you are concerned about or is bothering you about the plan. After regular progress reviews, use this area to document any changes to the plan or how a process that has proven valuable will be standardized as a business process.
The Catch Ball process is used in the same manner as described earlier. The team or individual and the manager or supervisor develop the plan collaboratively. When this process is complete, you now have an A3 Plan that everyone affected by it has been involved in developing. The final step to finalize the plan is for everyone who was involved with developing it to sign the plan, which formalizes everyone’s commitment to the plan.
I’ll write more in the future about how to use the A3 plan to manage the execution activities, monitor progress and make changes in the plan. For more information visit www.lean.org.
Charlie Alter owns Bentbrook Advisors LLC based in Sylvania, Ohio. He specializes in Growth Strategy, Innovation and Coaching and can be reached at email@example.com.