The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
― George Bernard Shaw
It is important to effectively communicate and regularly update any plan. Several decades ago Toyota pioneered what is now known in the Lean world as A3 Thinking, where the entire plan is shown, and updated, on one sheet of paper. A3 is the standard size of the paper, roughly the same as 11” x 17” in the United States.
There are four general categories of A3s:
- status report
- strategic planning
However all four follow the same general approach of embedding Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) thinking. There’s a section for the plan that compares where you are versus where you want to be, a section showing the steps to accomplish the plan, a section to check for effectiveness, and the A3 itself is a way to enable sharing and reflection. Clear status and metrics are shown.
A higher level A3, for example an organization’s hoshin plan on a strategy A3, will typically spawn lower level A3s to show specific annual goals and other projects. There is no defined format as long as the core components are used, however it is often beneficial to standardize formats within an organization to improve the efficiency of review. Some examples of A3s are in the Appendix.
Although it may seem tedious to create an A3 for each project or strategy, the act of creating it generates learning and understanding in itself – one reason the concept is called A3 Thinking. Then, when used as part of a regular review process and posted in a visible area, the A3 becomes a great tool for communication and ongoing project discipline and accountability. I’ll discuss A3s more in the section on Execute.