Coaching for Improvement: Using A3 Thinking For Personal Development (Part 2 – Getting Started on the Left Side)

How should I start coaching using the personal A3 process?

Many of you have reached out to me after I published the first post in this series about using the personal improvement A3 process and wanted to know more about how to get started with A3 thinking for personal development.

This post is for you and others who have similar questions about how to get started using the personal improvement A3 process as part of your coaching relationships.

Free coaching guide

Click here to receive a free copy of A3 coaching guide that I created for the breakout session I led at the Lean Coaching Summit (also shared in the previous post)! 

You can see other posts in this series:

Tips for coaches before getting started

Your learner has to want to be coached. He or she must also accept the hypothesis that “I am a condition that requires improvement”. This process is not one that will be effective for those individuals resistant to coaching.

Personal A3 Coaching RolesContract with your learner on your role. As with any coaching relationship, you want to establish upfront what your role is and what it is NOT.

In this process, your role as a coach is to:

1) support the learner in developing his or her own thinking

2) model effective Lean leadership through asking effective questions of inquiry, listening, and problem-solving thinking

3) guide the learner through the A3 thinking process.

Working through the “left side” of the A3

In addition to some of the tips shared in the coaching guide that you can get by clicking here, below are some expanded comments and thoughts I have shared personally with readers of this blog in the past.

Remember that like any A3 thinking process, the development of the personal improvement A3 is iterative and requires “going to see” (go to “gemba”) to be able to provide observable feedback for the current condition.

Personal improvement A3 thinking flow
Personal improvement A3 thinking flow


In this section, you want to help your learner set the stage for why they need to improve as a leader or coach in service to creating an organization filled with problem solvers. Why this? Why now?

Current Condition

In this section, ask questions of inquiry to help the learner describe the current state of their actions as a lean leader.

Keep your learner focused on observable facts. What habits and actions do they currently take? What are the observable outcomes of their actions? Focus on strengths and limitations.

Go see to provide observable evidence! As a coach during this part of the process (assuming that you have had an opportunity to observe your learner in action before), you can help “hold up the mirror” to the current state by giving observable feedback so that your learner can understand their current condition.

Keep your learner focused INWARD. One of the biggest “fatal flaws” I have seen when introducing the personal A3 is that some learners have a hard time focusing inward on themselves. Instead, the A3 starts to be focused outward on problems they own, team dynamics, or something that might on the surface appear “personal” but is really focused outward not inward.

Keep asking your learner “what are YOUR habits and actions that lead to the situation you are describing?” or “what is YOUR contribution to the outcomes you are listing?”

Problem statement

Help your learner choose one area to focus on.  When trying to develop new habits, it is better to focus on one (or maybe two) small things to improve upon.

Coach your learner to write one concise problem statement. Out of all of the habits described in the current condition, which one is the most limiting in their quest to become a better leader or coach?

Remember, as the coach, you do not own the thinking. Your learner must own the decision on what their problem is and what gaps they want to close in their habits and actions.


Targets and goals should be measurable and time-bound. Measures can be simple, but the learner needs to be able to know how he or she is actually improving.

Ask your learner “what does a little bit better look like?” It can be overwhelming to move to “perfect”, so start off with identifying the next target condition. What does moving towards better look like?


Ask “why” to help your learner uncover the root cause of their limiting habits. The “5 Whys” (or two or six, whatever it takes to uncover the reason behind current behavior) is critical to uncovering the reasons behind your learner’s habits and actions. Only then can they develop appropriate experiments and countermeasures to overcome these habits and develop new ones.

What questions do you have?

I welcome your questions and comments about this process in the comments section below. What have you learned by experimenting with this process?

Learn more

In a subsequent post, I’ll share in more detail how you can coach your learner through the “right side” of the A3 and support your learner in developing new habits. You can also get the coaching guide we created to support the personal A3 process by clicking here.

Additional references

Interested in more tips and insights about coaching, Lean leadership, and A3 thinking? You can find more information in some previous articles that I’ve written, including:

On this blog:

In the Lean Post:

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Join my self-paced “Breaking the ‘Telling Habit’” workshop, and unlock your team’s potential by discovering how to ask more effective questions. You can take the class at any time, at your own pace.

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