This was my second year presenting at Lean Agile Scotland. Thanks once again to Chris McDermott for putting on a conference single-handedly that somehow managed to be even better than last year’s. For me as a constrained conference-goer rather than a regular participant on the circuit, it was hugely important as a meeting of people who I first met a year ago, and at local monthly events since, and who now seem like old friends. Certainly this meant many, many like-minded people with many, many smart ideas and powerful experiences. Similarly it was great to meet new people, including some who have only been Twitter handles up until now. Given my subject matter this year, this crucially included Claudio Perrone, who is obscenely multitalented. More of him later.

Since last year, I have been liberated from working at a very large global technology and business services company, and am now independently consulting & contracting (yes, they’re different, and while currently I’m officially doing the latter, I’m dropping into the former role from time to time. This gives me immense freedom to talk about anything I like, so I gave Chris a whole Smörgåsbord of topics, and he plumped for A3.

Given the response, this was definitely the right thing to do — it was tremendously heartening to have a full room for my talk, and an attentive crowd too, despite the post-lunch graveyard slot.

Talk: Dive Into A3 Thinking

Session Description

Martin Burns presenting A3 Thinking at Lean Agile Scotland 2013

Photo: Ankit Mahendru of Spaarks.

An introduction to A3 method; a powerful improvement and problem-solving thinking approach that:

  1. Solves problems effectively
  2. Keeps everyone on-board so they stay solved
  3. Develops problem-solvers

yet is operated on a single piece of paper.

The method originated in write-ups of Toyota’s obsessive problem-solving culture. It is related to Toyota Kata evangelised by Håkan Forss, and is applicable to a wider range of problems.

Session Slides

How Did It Go: My Thoughts

I was in the same room as last year, and while I got an OK attendance in 2012, this year, the room was full, which was great to see. Knowing I was on in the “post lunch nap” slot, I had what I think was a cunning plan to get attention from the start — many thanks to Cath Steele of Spaarks for stepping in to help with this. I’d like to use the idea again, so won’t spoil the surprise here, but hopefully the lessons from Chip & Dan Heath’s Made to Stick helped attendees remember the talk.

As always in a constrained timeslot and a subject you’re passionate about, there were so many regretful omissions in my talk, some planned and some simply skipped my mind at the time. But I think it held together pretty well.

A3 Dojo

Session Description

A3 is primarily a coached method; it’s very hard to learn from a book. The primary learning approach is to be coached through action: Learning to Do.

However, Coaches also need to learn, and this too is effectively learned through coached action, once you have learned to do: Learning to Coach. This session offers hands-on coaching to problem-solvers, and second-level coaching to coaches.

Bring: a real-life problem/opportunity for improvement

Be prepared: to have your thinking challenged

How Did It Go: My Thoughts

Claudio Perrone's excellent A3 Thinker's Action Deck

Claudio Perrone’s excellent A3 Thinker’s Action Deck

This was a hands-on workshop. At the end of the talk (and elsewhere), I encouraged people to bring real problems, and handed out blank A3 templates & guidance.

As it turned out, I ended up focusing on one problem — one of my fellow speakers had to swap his slot as he hadn’t received his employer’s approval in time for his scheduled day one appearance. Through the coaching and his thinking, his approach went from Be less lazy next time to realising that there’s a whole system involved, and giving him an approach to engage all the stakeholder groups required to make improvement happen in that system. By working on the system (working on the 95%, not the 5% in Deming terms), it should produce a better result for both him and his employer next time.

I was also delighted to be joined by Claudio Perrone and put his A3 Thinker cards to the test. These have a distinct echo of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, and provide you with coaching and thinking ideas in your hand at the point of need. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

But What Did You Think?

So that was my impression. But I already know what I intended, so it’s really hard for me to assess whether it met the needs of attendees, and what needs to be improved.

If you attended either session or both, you’d be doing me an immense favour by giving me some feedback via The Perfection Game.

Head over to and tell me how it met your needs, and how it could be even better. If that doesn’t work for you, just visit the site and manually enter the code:

This doesn’t require registration, although it would very much help if you left your real name. Please understand that the purpose is not to be nice to me (aka ‘Mum feedback’) but to help me be better next time.

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CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Dive Into A3: A Talk & Interactive Workshop at Lean Agile Scotland, 19/20 September 2013 by Martin Burns is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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