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Some time ago I worked with a few medium-sized manufacturers on their strategic A3s about implementing a Lean Management System (LMS). Having heard about value, waste and flow most of them thought “doing lean” was a no-brainer. After all, that’s why they were there: to learn about implementing a LMS.

The first problem we encountered was to answer the key question in the Background section of “What business problem are you trying to address?” It took some time to let go of the notion that elimination of waste was in and of itself an adequate reason for “doing lean”.

And so it went… Every section of the A3 demanded that they re-assess their assumptions about:

  • What actually happened to make them think that they needed a LMS?
  • What would a good result look like?
  • What would be the drivers of that good result?

Then only could we start discussing what to do to implement a LMS.

In contrast to this, I had some encouraging encounters with some of the first cohort of participants on the Lean Management Development Programme (LMDP). Stephan Drees from Nibbly bits (they make the nice biscuits and cakes for Woolworths) reflected that “this programme forces you to learn how to use the A3 method”.

I was a little perturbed, because I try as much as possible to avoid forcing anyone to do anything against their will. However, he went on to say that he had on many occasions thought of doing an A3, but most often it petered out because it was just a bridge too far to engage with the questions that the A3 method “forces” you to confront. His reflection was that being “forced” on the LMDP to use a structured approach helped him to overcome his inertia to take on the challenge.

Samantha Allen, LIAs ever patient LMDP facilitator, confirmed that the most common guidance that she needs to give is to help people to avoid jumping to conclusions. “The one thing I have to do most often as an A3 coach” she says, “is to bring people back to an earlier stage of the A3 process so that they can recognise their premature recommendations and learn to develop a proper storyline that is built on evidence and logical links to the previous sections of the A3”.

Thembinkosi Siganda told me that he found his introduction to the A3 method to be a “life-changing” encounter. He had no previous experience of this approach to problem-solving. His work in city governance at the City of Cape Town involves interacting with many stakeholders involved in improving service delivery and enterprise and investment facilitation. He told me that he is using the A3 method to systematically think through the issues he has to address. Since basing engagement with the people he works with on the A3 storyline, he has found that is much easier to reconcile their different points of view and develop consensus on the way forward. And yes, he has started using A3 thinking at home too.

The very positive response to the LMDP way exceeded our expectations. Not only did more people and organisations sign up for the programme than we anticipated, but the positive feedback from participants has been very encouraging. It is gratifying that the LMDP is delivering on its purpose to develop managers from diverse work environments to become more effective in their work.

If you would be interested in attending the Johannesburg Lean Management Development Programme, there are still some places available. Please visit the LMDP page on our website to learn more and register.

Kind regards,


P.S. If you work in healthcare or a service industry, we are hosting a free lunchtime chat at the Graduate School of Business in Cape Town on the 2nd of May. Beau Keyte will be talking about his work leading improvement projects at multiple healthcare facilities at the same time , and how the model is now used in other industries. You can register on the GSB website for this event.

P.P.S. There are a number of other education and training opportunities on our website, including a Lean Leadership short course and four workshops in one event: Lean Management Meets Lean Engineering.