I learned from a student of mine the other day that her company was using A3s. 3 cheers! Maybe her company is even doing hoshin kanri (aka policy deployment). Then she told me that the value stream mapping exercise we had just completed was exactly what her company needed on the front line.
I thought immediately of a few of my clients who have invested heavily in the Balanced Scorecard, which too often creates thunder and lightening but no transformative heat. So too the A3, at least when it is not connected to the right methods on the front line.
This is apparently what has happened to my student. Without value stream maps, one wonders how her organization prioritized its projects. Chosen from a grab bag of best practices, most likely.
Lean enterprise is, for better or for worse, a package, much like the farming of wheat and barely and the domestication of goats, sheep, and cows were a package in the Fertile Crescent at the dawn of civilization. It is true that in Asia a different package, based upon rice, pigs, and chickens, emerged. But in either case, to become civilized, you had to farm the right crops and domesticate the right animals. See Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel
Likewise, to become a lean enterprise, you have to employ the right tools (value stream maps, standard work, flow, pull, mistake proofing, etc.) and manage in the right way (A3s, hoshin kanri, the president's diagnosis). Leaving out this or that, even the simple act of relabeling ("We don't speak Japanese," is often the ostensible motivation), can result in abject failure. I was part to a discuss at Ford Motor Company in the 1990s in which the critical term "takt time"--the lynch pin of lean manfuacturing--had been restyled "line rate" in a "reengineering" project facilitated by Ernst & Young. A fellow consultant and I protested. When we explained our concern, which required us to teach the concept of takt time, the Ford engineers said quite plainly, "We can't do that." And, ladies and gentlemen, they didn't. Within three years, Ford's lean manufacturing effort was eclipsed by Six Sigma. Ford is still not a lean manufacturer today. Fortunately, it's new CEO, Alan Mullaly, has brought the "lean package" with him from his former employer, Boeing.
The lean package: it's all or nothing.