A3 is a powerful improvement method, founded on a structured thinking process, errorproofed using a semi-formal report format. It is effective as the framework of Improvement Kata, and is the engine driving improvements through the Everyday Lean Model.

This is a meta-post, introducing the learning method I use for A3. It’s my kata. If you want to learn A3 from me, you need to follow my kata.

It’s true that if the learner hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught. This is the first in a series of posts that can teach you the A3 method. But unfortunately A3 isn’t easy to teach in writing. I know, because – with no alternative available – I learned from writing, and it took me significantly longer to get it than most people I’ve coached, and most of them are now much more effective improvers than I am.

Everyday Lean Methods Summary in Improvement

Hoshin Kanri
Provides the strategy outline — the True North that your improvement compass is aligned to, and how that is expressed at all levels of the organisation. This gives direction to your improvement and takes improvement beyond Whinge of the Day territory.
Kanban
Enables flowing process and highlights systemic deviations from True North capability. You can call them problems, or opportunities for improvement; to my thinking, the terms are interchangeable. As part of this, supplies empirical data supporting A3.
A3
The thinking process that finds the right thing to change, empirically proves that it delivers improvement and ensures that improvements stick.

So these pieces can teach you, but I won’t guarantee that they will teach you. If you can, find someone who uses A3 on a regular basis, and ask them to coach you. If they’re able to truly coach (ie focus on asking questions to drive your thinking rather than giving answers), then please, learn A3 from them, not from these articles, or from any of the excellent books on the market.

If you can’t find anyone, I’m happy to be your teacher. If at the end of it all, you can’t use and coach A3, it will be my fault. However, before I take on the accountability, I’m going to ask for some commitments from you.

  1. The approach I’m taking is very deliberately in two stages: Learn to Do, then Learn to Coach. A3 is absolutely a coached method, but to be an effective coach, you have to know what you’re looking for. By the time I’m finished writing, you’ll be able to skip straight ahead to the coaching parts, and if you’re a coach, this will be a strong temptation. Don’t do that. Without understanding what the Learning to Do process feels like from the inside, you simply cannot empathise with your coachees, or hope to ask the right questions that will drive their understanding.
  2. Please follow it in the order I’m writing, as the articles will lead you through the same consciously structured thinking process that the Improvement Process goes through; you’re learning by doing here, and following my kata to train your mental muscles to work in defined ways.
  3. In the same spirit, I must insist that you actually use these articles to do an improvement, not simply read about it. It doesn’t have to be big; it doesn’t even have to be work related. It does have to be real though, and have before & after situations that you can truly contrast and understand what improvement you’ve made. Once you’ve done one improvement, find another, and another, even when you’re coaching others — again, it’s a kata. Repetition matters. Everyday Lean thinking says that you will always have something to improve until you reach the North Star of perfection (never).
  4. Expect to fail. Some of the time. Expect to be utterly wrong in your thinking and expectations. Some of the time. Expect to not understand. Some of the time. Keep going. Fail big. If you’re going to run into walls, I want to see an outline of where you went through, in good Roadrunner style. But follow it with Hansei. This is deeper than simple Western ‘Lessons Learned’; it is taking time out for thoughtful reflection on your actions and shortcomings in learning, resulting in a vow not to fail the same way again. That’s how you’ll learn more and faster.
  5. Finally, please provide feedback to me, either in comments, or via the Contact Form. As mentioned above, I don’t normally teach A3 via writing; I’m trying to replicate my highly interactive coaching kata. I may get it entirely wrong. I’m sure there are far better ways to do it. I just haven’t found them yet. But I need to understand the current situation first. Yes, I’m applying A3 improvement to my method. What, you expected something different?
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Martin Burns

Transformation Consultant at CA Inc (formerly Rally)
Previously: Leader of software delivery portfolios in large scale orgs.
Specialism: Transforming complex delivery organisations to be more Lean/Agile.
Mindset: Continuous Improvement Obsessive
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