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LeanOperationsProductivityService Improvement

Powerpoint Sneaky Lean

30 July 2023
Gnome hiding in fern leaves smiling

One of the key tools of the Toyota Production System is an ‘A3’.  It’s basically a live project plan on a page. On one piece of A3 sized paper.  (I failed to communicate the ‘one page of A3’ part on a course once and was surprised when 25 x 6 page word documents plopped in my inbox some weeks later. I have not made the same teaching mistake since).

Much of lean and improvement is based on applying the Plan, Do, Check, Act scientific approach to work i.e. Plan – what do you want to do, Do – do it, Check – did it do what you wanted it to do? Act – yes it did, brilliant, embed it into standard practice. No it didn’t, ok well what’s your next plan?

I repeat, an A3 is Plan Do Check Act on one piece of A3 paper. They are brilliant because they force you to be succinct.  A lean A3 is a live document so everyone can see where you are and how a project is progressing. In organisations that are mature in their approach to Continuous Improvement, an A3 document has real power, enabling budget spend, authorisation of process change – they become a kind of currency or language for organisational change.

Despite how genius a good A3 is, to be honest, within my team, the Business School, College and University, I’ve never used one and I wonder why that is?

Perhaps because I’m fearful that if I introduce the tool to people I’m working alongside against, they’ll think that I’m even more odd than they do already? What strange one page madness is this? We need detailed business case documents that clearly articulate multiple options, risks and detailed project plans!

Perhaps it’s because achieving success in the Flexible Learning project that I’m working on feels much harder than something that can be contained within the one piece of paper?

Perhaps it’s because the more and more I care about lean, the more I want lean to be not so explicit and in your face, but subtle, secret lean … lean by stealth. Lean that doesn’t need it’s own headline, just lean that works.

There is no doubt about it, someone showing up with an A3 to a meeting is tantamount to having ‘I love lean’ tattooed on your forehead (no I haven’t got any tattoos, lean ones or otherwise). But I’m pleased to tell you, I think I’ve invented a project management tool that is a tad more subtle but almost as clever.

May I present to you, the weekly powerpoint project update.


Ok, it’s not as groundbreaking as say, inventing powerpoint itself, but I am quite proud of it because it’s not only helping me to communicate project progress with everyone who expresses an interest, it’s also helping to structure my thoughts. I fill it out as the week progresses and yes, it does help me to be succinct and focus on what’s important.

This is what it looks like:

Slide 1: Cover page

Slide 2: One page Update – this is the week in a nutshell, the headlines that I want to share, things that have surprised me, things that I’ve learned that are important, links to further information which I find useful

Slide 3: Meetings that I’ve had that week as a table. The first column is the name, second, which department they are from, third column, my notes from the meeting.  If it’s a particularly juicy meeting, I’ll make my notes in Word and then at the end, review the notes and fill in the meeting summary in the table. With a meeting heavy week, sometimes this table stretches to 2 or 3 slides.

Slide 4: Meetings coming up slide.  This is just a list of all of the meetings that I have coming up relating to the project.  Not so interesting you might think, but this slide is important – it forces me to think about the forthcoming weeks of the project – have I planned sessions with people that are important to the success of the project? Critically however, this slide is the basis for next week’s ‘this week’s meetings’ slides, so it is all ready for me to fill out the following week.  Importantly, on this slide, I keep a record of all the people I have both asked to meet but they haven’t got back to me yet and also, people that I need to meet and haven’t asked. This is so helpful because, when juggling multiple activities as I am, you can easily forget things that you need to follow up on.  Having them listed in the weekly update means that when I turn to create next week’s update, I am forced to reflect on them, and push / poke / action.

Slide 5: Contact me slide with a link to a Teams Folder of all of the previous weekly updates.

I mix it up some weeks and include extra information about important things I’ve found out or created such as a map of the University’s different CRM systems, a process flow chart for getting new programmes uploaded onto SIMS and our University website.

What’s really pleasing to me is how these weekly updates are proving to be a really useful diary of my progress so far.  I regularly dip into them when I’m trying to remember what someone said or what I thought at a given point. After 15 weekly updates, they really are beginning to tell a story of my progress.  The standard structure of the update provides a consistency architecture which helps to tell the story of what’s happening.  Plus there’s nothing intimidating about a pdf’d powerpoint is there?!

The really important thing that setting them up has achieved has been to motivate me to make progress each week. I’m conscious that I need to create one each week now (holiday weeks apart, plus when embroiled in AACSB reaccreditation visits) so I’m actively looking out for things that will make my update more interesting and forcing myself to summarise what’s happened every week provides me with some really great focus – and yes, an opportunity to ‘check and act’.

Communicating a project to stakeholders in this way is hopefully (would need to ask people to truly determine this) helping to build an informed consensus of opinion too. Not everyone is going to open the emails, or indeed read every word that I’ve written, but hopefully enough people will so that I’m not on my own in trying to deliver more forms of flexible learning in Cardiff University, I’ve got a team of informed and aware allies behind me.