Workforce Training: Lean Thinking

As you may know by now, a number of Tocci employees from the office and the field have taken part in our 2016 Workforce Training Program. The last four sessions in the training have focused on Lean initiatives, which are systematic methods for the elimination of waste, with instructors Nick Masci and Kelly Meade. Certain individuals in the program have led efforts to improve current processes at Tocci applying lean methods using an A3.

What’s an A3?

A3 thinking is a formula for defining, analyzing, developing a mitigation plan for and testing resolutions to problems. It is named after the A3-sized paper used to record the analysis exercise. Using a single 11” x 17” sheet of paper meets one of the requirements for a lean process—it minimizes waste. More importantly however, A3 thinking enables respect for stakeholders by taking their input into consideration which, in part, results in improving process or product value. Popularized by Toyota in their manufacturing facilities, the principles behind A3 are the ideas of American engineers Walter Shewhart and William Denning.

One individual participating in the program is Logan, a laborer who is a part of the punch crew at our site in Westborough, MA. He also recently became a part-time member of the IT department spending time in the office a couple days each week. Logan’s A3 has focused around improvements to the punch list process. Punch lists, which are used by most contractors, are items that need to be checked off before moving on to the next step.

In order to begin his journey, Logan had to get to the root of any hiccups in the current process. To do this, he used a Fishbone Diagram. A lean tool he found to be extremely helpful to really analyze the cause and effect for each piece of the process. In completing the chart, Logan consulted with various field staff that also take part in the punch list process. By speaking with these individuals, Logan could gather more information to incorporate into the A3. Each person brings new insight to give a more complete picture of the process’ current state.
Fishbone Diagram
Once Logan was able to develop a thorough understanding of the influences contributing to the punch list process, he could then begin to gather ideas to make improvements. Logan once again spoke with other individuals involved in the punch list process to hear what they would like to see happen with it. He also conducted research to see which ideas were feasible to implement. To complete his A3 journey, Logan will begin piloting the new idea(s). As he moves through this last phase, he will continuously Plan, Do, Check and Adjust (PDCA) – a very important final step in the A3 journey.

A3’s are a very useful tool to analyze a situation and follow through with improvements. They assist us with thinking in a Lean way. When reflecting on his journey so far, Logan had this to say:

“Going into the lean portion of the training sessions, I expected to hear the usual myriad of buzzwords without any real meaning behind them – things like promoting synergy, game-changing, outside-the-box thinking, and so on. I expected concepts to be thrown around about efficiency and cost cutting. Lastly, I expected examples about assembly lines and call centers that had no relevance to our work. Instead, I think we were all pleasantly surprised to be introduced to a way of thinking that actually has the potential to improve the way we complete a task of any size. The tools and thinking techniques that were introduced in the program are actually useful in a number of different contexts, and though I am still new the whole lean experience I think there is a lot to gain if you go into the program with an open mind.

I have actually enjoyed my A3 journey more than I expected to. I thought it would be a painful, hand-holding process where a nameless suit would come in to explain to us all of the things that we are doing poorly and tear us lowly construction workers down before jumping into an expensive convertible and driving off into the sunset. But one of the core concepts of this lean process is that we respect our employees. I have been given the freedom to think critically about our processes and come up with solutions in a guided, supportive environment and the end result will actually be the product of all of the combined brain power of the Tocci employees that contributed to my A3. I don’t want to regurgitate too much of what we were told in the training, but I want to bring up the importance of allowing people to think for themselves. All of our A3 projects have received input from the people that are most affected by their results, so they are bound to be more personal and valuable than they would be otherwise.”

The training is funded by a Workforce Training Fund Grant from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The grant program is administered by the Commonwealth Corporation.

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