Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The A3: TQM in a red dress, part I--PDCA

What is Toyota's secret report--the A3--all about?

In his indispensable book, Managing Quality Fads, Professor Robert E. Cole, emeritus of UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, wrote about how the world outside of Japan has taken decades to implement Total Quality Management (TQM)--in the form of consulting fads. Of these fads, Six Sigma is perhaps the best known, but there were many others: Kepner Tregoe, Shainin's Red X, the Nolan cycle, should I go on?

And now there is the A3. In the past ten years, a plethora of books about the A3 purport to teach us how to use TQM's Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) cycle to manage everything. See, for example, my own Hoshin Kanri for the Lean Enterprise (Productivity Press, 2006), Pascal Dennis's Getting the Right Things Done (LEI, 2007), John Shook's Managing to Learn (LEI, 2008), Smalley and Sobek's Understanding A3 Thinking (Productivity Press, 2008), and Shook's 2009 Sloan Management Review article, "Toyota's Secret: The A3 Rerport," Today the list continues to grow.

Is the A3 something new? Or is it just another in a long line of TQM fads? This blog will examine some of the evidence. We begin the inquiry with PDCA.

The A3 and the PDCA cycle

On its face, the A3 phenomenon appears to be a TQM fad because of its self-proclaimed link to the Deming cycle. One would think that we had learned how to use PDCA almost ninety years after Walter Shewhart's memo on statistical process control appeared at Western Electric. Apparently not. Restating PDCA as Six Sigma's DMAIC or as the steps of CEDAC or the steps of Kepner Tregoe or the steps of any other pragmatic adaptation of the scientific method have not sufficed either. There are still quite enough people in the world who need to learn PDCA to support another...TQM fad.

Besides the obvious, what does the A3 owe to TQM? There are at least five additional dimensions to the A3 phenomenon that bear a striking similarity to TQM. In subsequent posts I will explore the A3 and TQM in the light of:
  • the practice of going to the gemba; 
  • the practice of coaching;
  • the so-called A3 storytelling tools;
  • the phenomenon of A3 thinking:
  • the A3's link to hoshin kanri or policy deployment.
Tom Jackson
Portland, Oregon
26 April 2016

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