An action plan is one of the most important parts of an A3 report. Turning ideas and conversations into crisp, focused action plans is something every lean leader needs to do.

The current state and the target condition are the source of a clear action plan. When we skip over these thinking steps and jump straight to actions, it’s like throwing spaghetti on a wall to see if it sticks. In other words, the actions aren’t generated from anything thoughtful.

When we take time to generate the current reality and target condition, this drives our actions. We then turn our attention to specific barriers. That’s what prevents us from achieving the target condition.

Actions should focus on removing barriers to the target condition. This is a subtle but important difference compared to trying to create the target condition. The target should be the result of your actions, not the actions themselves.

It’s important to focus on specific changes to the current condition that get us there. This is much more productive than just trying to create the target. If we aren’t clear on the barriers and how to overcome them, any achievement of the target condition will be temporary at best.

When writing the action plan, just answer this question: Who is going to do what by when? Who, what and when are the three essential elements of an action plan. Unfortunately, 90 percent of the action plans I see only contain two of these elements.

When working as a team, make sure you have high agreement of both “what” and “how.” “What” is the details of the outcome-the “who will do what by when.” “How” is the method or technique by which it is done. This doesn’t have to be captured in intricate detail, but there needs to be a common understanding.

Have you ever walked out of a meeting where you thought you had an agreement, but after seeing everyone take action, you wondered what the heck they were thinking? It’s likely that you didn’t have high agreement of how it would get done.

Establishing high agreement of the “how” is something that’s often uncomfortable for many organizations and individuals. It’s not about trust; it is about effectiveness and efficiency. Without agreement on the how, you will not be working consistently, generating waste in the process.

After you have high agreement, don’t forget that you have to manage the actions. When following up on actions, hope is not a method; you cannot manage what you cannot see.

It’s important to remember that an A3 report is a method for managing and building knowledge. Managing actions through the Plan Do Check Act cycle is essential. A hypothesis is what connects the actions back to the thinking you developed throughout the A3 process. This completes the learning cycle.

Without this final small, but important, touch to the action planning process, all of the thinking that you’ve invested to this point will remain a theory. It is untested.

Complete the learning loop and turn your theory into useable knowledge. Then you, as well as those you lead and coach, will deepen your knowledge for another day of improvement efforts.

Jamie Flinchbaugh is a founder and partner of the Lean Learning Center in Novi, MI, and the co-author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean: Lessons from the Road. He shares his successful and varied experiences of lean transformation as a practitioner and leader through companies such as Chrysler and DTE Energy. He also has a wide range of practical experience in industrial operations, including production, maintenance, material control, product development and manufacturing engineering. Jamie is a graduate fellow of the Leaders for Manufacturing Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his research thesis was on implementing lean manufacturing through factory design. He also holds a B.S. in Engineering from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, and an M.S. in Engineering from the University of Michigan. To contact Jamie directly, go to the web site