Guest Post: A3 = “Drive”


dan markovitzDan Pink's new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, has been getting a lot of press recently, and deservedly so. He demonstrates persuasively not only that people are self-motivated by the desire for autonomy, mastery, and purpose, but that the traditional carrot-and-stick model (i.e., “If you do this better or faster, you'll receive a bonus or get promoted.”) is actually counter-productive. Pink's argument feels very much in keeping with the “Respect for people” principle of lean, and ties in nicely to Dr. Deming's red bead experiment (here and here).

I was thinking about this during an LEI class I took on developing A3s, based on John Shook's Managing To Learn book. (A great investment, by the way, if you haven't bought it yet.) John pointed out that one of the great gifts of using A3s in an organization is that it encourages front-line initiative. People have the chance (the responsibility, really) to take ownership of a problem and fix it. And the people best able to fix the problems are the ones who have direct involvement with the product or process.

In this regard, the A3 — when done correctly — is the perfect avenue to demonstrate Dan Pink's ideas in action. The A3 provides the opportunity for autonomy (the front line staff does the analysis), mastery (learning more about the process and how it can be improved), and purpose (understanding how this piece of the process affects the whole organization and its ability to fulfill its mission). No carrot or stick needed — just the willingness to learn and improve.

Of course, the problem solving format you use is irrelevant. But keep in mind that along with PDCA, you want to promote some “Drive.”

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Dan Markovitz
Dan Markovitz is president of Markovitz Consulting, a firm that radically improves operational speed and efficiency by applying lean concepts to knowledge work. He is a faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute and teaches at the Stanford University Continuing Studies Program. He also lectures on A3 thinking at the Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business. Dan is a frequent speaker and presenter at conferences, and has consulted to organizations as diverse as Camelbak, Clif Bar, Abbott Vascular, WL Gore & Associates, Intel, the City of Menlo Park, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. His book, A Factory of One, was honored with a Shingo Research Award in 2013. Dan has also published articles in the Harvard Business Review blog, Quality Progress, Industry Week magazine, Reliable Plant magazine, and Management Services Journal, among other magazines. All of these articles are available for download on the Resources page. Earlier in his career, he held management positions in product marketing at Sierra Designs, Adidas, CNET and Asics Tiger, where he worked in sales, product marketing, and product development. He also has experience as an entrepreneur, having founded his own skateboarding footwear company. Dan lived in Japan for four years and is fluent in Japanese. He holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.


  1. Is there an A3 to explain the gigantic recall of those Toyota cars which were, themselves, subjected to endless A3’s about every nuance of the Toyota cars and collected in yet another A3, authored by Liker et al, and given to the injustices of reality as the real world knows it?

    May I snort at TPS now? Just now?

  2. There will always be a gap between plans and reality (at least till I become king of the universe). Your point is well-taken, though, and fits quite nicely with what John Shook and Jim Womack have written in their most recent letters.

  3. Rearden – you can snort all you like, but it probably doesn’t change a thing. As Shook recently said, there’s a sad gap between the ideal Toyota Production System and the real “Toyota’s production system.”

    Failures of Toyota don’t invalidate the principles and methods of lean that work so well for so many organizations.

    You’ll be happy, I saw your friend Fred Taylor’s picture and name cited in a presentation here in Sweden.

  4. There can be value in being skeptical and analyzing all perspectives, if there is more purpose than to just be skeptical.

    TPS (thinking people system) is a proven superior way for people to accomplish things; instead of being skeptical and focusing on weaknesses, society gets further ahead building on its strengths (like this one).

    It’s interesting how much attention and attitude is given to Toyota in negative situations like recalls.

    A friend suggested that since there is less to pick on Toyota about, the media and people in general put in extra effort to grasp at what ever straws they are given.

    Imagine the possibilities if we apply this extra effort elsewhere


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