Why you should use A3 Management for problem solving

8 april 2018

At YTEC, we use in complex projects A3 Management to align the tasks of our programmers with the goals of our client. With A3, we can show the connection between those goals and tasks. We keep an overview in a single image that shows a helicopter view of the strategic direction.

Because of this, the priority of a project is clear, so that we can plan the best order of actions.

The origin of A3 in lean management

A3 Management is part of the school of lean management, a production system developed by car manufacturer Toyota. Since then, lean management has been applied in other areas, such as the service industries.

‘Lean’ is a philosophy of the production line that relies on principles, such as the elimination of waste, while ensuring value for the customer. The Toyota management uses A3 Management to check whether their staff have grasped a particular problem. That is the most important step toward a solution.

Within software development, this philosophy of lean entails that you apply agile project management for short-cycle decisions. You know and accept what you don’t know about the project. That is how you control the unknown factors and the budget.

A3 problem solving at YTEC

The technical challenges and tasks of our team serve the strategic goal of our customer. When there is a change in the situation or planning, we have to see how the consequences apply to our work. You need to map technical tasks to customer value.

The power of A3 is that you can split a project into the technical details, such as work on APIs, protocols and servers. We can show the connection of these details with the customer’s goals. An A3 image shows how IT actions relate to the ultimate goal.

An A3 image has the following elements:

  • Background: the higher goals of the organization.
  • Current situation: an objective description.
  • Desired situation: a concretization of the higher goals into tickets.
  • Obstacles between the current and the desired situation.
  • A Plan and Activities with a time line and who will do what.
  • Expected results with verifiable outcomes, to test whether you have achieved the desired situation.

An A3 image helps you make short-cycle decisions and coordinate the actors in a project. That way you stay in control of a technical project.

For project management, we use Kanban and Scrum, two other methods of the lean school. However, A3 is better suited to solving problems. YTEC is a ‘dedicated team of problem solvers’ and we use A3 mostly for solving problems. Then not all parts of the A3 image are equally relevant. Large projects always have a ‘Point’, but for a technical upgrade, such as building a coupling with Exact, a ‘Desired situation’ will serve. The other parts of the A3 are less applicable.

The beauty of A3 problem solving is that we can show our customer what we do. Sometimes it’s a challenge to make our work visible. Whenever we build a website, the result is easy to see. However, the optimization of order management in a warehouse, or tailored applications for a primary process, demand more explanation. Then A3 is the method to describe what we do, and why we do it, in ordinary language.