Author: Sophie Pawloski

Sophie Pawloski is a Student Process Improvement Coordinator at Michigan Technological University.

A3: Not Just A Paper Size

Although I am a third year student, I still find myself struggling to determine and practice good study habits that fit my learning style. It seems like every semester I try changing many different things in order to find how studying works best for me, but every semester feel as if I still fall short. Whether it’s not achieving the top grade for the class or the feeling that the time I spent studying was not spent using maximum productivity, whatever I was doing never seemed to work. That is, until I was introduced to Lean and Continuous Improvement. I then realized the tools I use at work every day could also be applied to my school and home life. After I started to use the various Lean tools available to me at work I began to see how they could be very valuable to me in my academics. I started to think about what to work on and improve in my school life and the first thing that came to mind was making my studying more effective and efficient. This is when I found that an A3 would be great tool to use to pinpoint the root problem with my studying habits.

Normally when people hear the term A3 they think of the stand size 11″ x 17″ piece of paper. The A3 lean tool refers to this sized piece of paper that is used as a template for a problem solving report. The template is comprised of six different topics or steps to help you analyze the problem and attempt to find a viable solution. These steps include purpose statement, objectives, current state, future state, implementation plan, and outcome/metrics. This template focuses on planning in order to guide you through the problem solving process using the PCDA Method (Plan, Do, Check, Act). A basic template for an A3 can be seen below.

I am currently in the process of creating and revising my A3 for my study habits, but after multiple revisions and zeroing in on the root problem, I can already tell how much using the A3 helped. This is just one example of how I use Lean tools in my everyday life. There are many tools out there, some of which you probably already use without knowing it, that can really assist you in your everyday life. So take advantage of the Lean culture, I know I do!

Spotting Waste

When most people hear the word waste we think of trash or garbage, however, waste can be a lot more than that especially when used in terms of lean. In lean terms waste is defined as any activity that uses resources but doesn’t create value for the customer and in the lean world, we’re all about eliminating waste. There are actually eight different types of waste which can be grouped into three different categories known as muda (just waste), mura (waste due to unevenness or variation), and muri (waste or stress on the system due to overburdening or unreasonableness). The eight different types of waste include:

Motion: This form of waste is whenever there is unnecessary movement of people. Some of the forms this can be seen in are traveling to equipment that is shared with other tasks or looking around for information that could or should be readily available for you. Some common causes of this form of waste are work space layout, ergonomic issues or searching for misplaced items.

Waiting: This form of waste is caused when people are stuck waiting for other people, information, products, or equipment which disrupts the process. This waste can look like idle time, customers waiting in long lines, and stopped equipment. It can be caused by the need for an approval or unbalanced workloads.

Knowledge: This form of waste is when an individual’s knowledge or skills is not being used to its full potential. This can be seen in a large amount of approvals or reviews, or the neglect of ideas. The common causes of this waste are lack of trust in the workforce and lack of communications between departments.

Movement: This form of waste is caused by the unneeded movement of things. This can look like hand carrying equipment and rearranging elements. Some common causes of this waste are too much inventory and a poor layout for the process.

Correction: This form or waste is when incorrect or incomplete information has to be corrected or finished when it should have been right to begin with. This can be seen when there are defects, missing information, or dissatisfied customers. Some common causes of this are poor training or communication, lack of in depth instruction, or no standard.

Over-processing: This form of waste is when more is done than what is necessary to produce a product or service. This can be seen in inspections or reviews, redundancies, or approvals. The common causes of this form of waste are an outdated process or a lack of trust or communication.

Overproduction: This form of waste is when more is done or made than what was needed. This can look like queues of work or and abundance of inventory. Some common causes of this are an environmental push or a lack of focus on the value stream.

Inventory: This waste is the surplus of supplies, information, or equipment. It can be seen as stockpiles of materials, supplies or papers. This form of waste occurs when people make or store items “just-in-case” or when there is an unreliable purchasing process.

No matter what the form of waste is, it is always important to know what it is and how to spot it. Lean is driven on the removal of waste in any form to better a process or project so, if you don’t know how to spot it you won’t be able to fix it. Waste is all around us. Look around you now, what waste do you notice just in the room you are in?

Personal Kanban

People often find themselves getting caught up in a pile of tasks they need to complete. These tasks exist in their personal lives, work projects, or school assignments. When people get wrapped up in the amount of tasks they are faced with, they tend to not know where to begin. They become uncertain on how to organize and prioritize these tasks. This can lead to missing events or deadlines and feeling very overwhelmed. However, lean tools can be the perfect fix to this overwhelming feeling; one in particular is the Personal Kanban.

A Personal Kanban is a tool used to help visualize, prioritize, and complete tasks. It also aids in managing work by volume and highest value so an individual can see what order tasks should be completed in. This lean tool also works with the individual to help them be successful because it’s directly tailored to the needs of that person. Some main benefits of using this tool are it organizes allotted time, provides a foundation for improvement efforts in work flow, and supports communication and coordination with a supervisor.  There are many different ways to set up a Personal Kanban. This and the fact that it can be used anywhere and it tracks items that are of personal value to the individual. These are what make it personal.

Around the Office of Continuous Improvement many Personal Kanbans can be seen, since all of the employees here use them. They all include tasks and projects we need to complete around the office and when we need to complete them; however, no two look exactly alike. Some of us choose to use an online format, while others go with a simple white board and sticky notes, and others have detailed layouts, but in every case these Kanbans help us all organize our tasks in a way that will help us complete them efficiently and effectively. Also our Personal Kanbans are constantly changing because we are continually trying to figure out the best layout and platform that works for us as individuals. One way to measure how well a Personal Kanban set-up fits you, is to examine if you are actually using it. Because after all, if you’re not using the tool, obviously something is not working right.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed by tasks, expectations, and commitments use the examples below to form your own Personal Kanban and get those tasks organized!


PIC Sophie's Personal Kanban
PIC Sophie’s Personal Kanban


Office Assistant Alexandra's Personal Kanban
Office Assistant Alexandra’s Personal Kanban


PIC Dominique's Personal Kanban
PIC Dominique’s Personal Kanban