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3P / Production Preparation Process

The Production Preparations Process (3P) is a powerful means of taking a big-picture look at how a product is designed and manufactured. It guides teams through the creative process of generating ideas, and then whittles the ideas down to one that will be implemented.

A 3P project can focus on either the process or on the product design. The goal is to finish the event, usually about a week long, with a good idea of how the design should look, and a good understanding of how it will be built.

A 3P event should include a cross-functional team. Teams, due to the scope, tend to be somewhat larger than a team for a typical kaizen, and generally consist of top performers. 3P events with as many as 20 people are not unheard of for major product changes. The first day generally has a large amount of time dedicated to training. The rest of the week is spent unleashing creativity to get a large number of ideas out in the open, and then vetting and combining those ideas to whittle them down to the most promising among them.

The Production Preparation Process is a rather sophisticated tool that is built upon an advanced understanding of other Lean principles. It should not be attempted until the company has made significant progress along its continuous improvement journey.

A 3P project is traditionally done with a new product release, but may also be used for a redesign. Unlike kaizen, which generally involves incremental improvements, the production preparation process, for an existing operation, would be a complete overhaul.

The purpose of a 3P event is to create products that are designed to be built in a flow operation. This is very similar to design for manufacturability, but is packed into a short project.

Types of Production Preparation Process

These events are typically focused on either a product design, or on process development. In both cases, the team starts from scratch, as if it is doing a greenfield development. This prevents them from constraining their thinking based on current processes and designs.

Phases of 3P

  1. Define the problem / Make the business case. Every project should start with an understanding of the need.
  2. Set goals and objectives. The production preparation process will often have significant profit and loss ramifications. Despite this, don’t just try to pack as much improvement as possible into a week-long event. Projects should have clear goals and objectives, as they are often closely tied to corporate strategies.
  3. Analysis and diagramming. This step will involves gathering a significant amount of information about the processes and assembly of the product. It will often involve product layouts. In this exercise, an existing product is disassembled and turned into a real-live exploded view. Special attention is paid to the way the parts fit together. The 3P process makes extensive use of descriptive words (twist, press, flip, roll, etc.) when describing how products are assembled.

Visit part 2 to continue reading about the production preparation process (3P).

  • The Production Preparation Process is an advanced technique. It makes use of many of the basic Lean tools and other continuous improvement methodologies. If you try to jump right into using this tool, you will likely not have the basic skills that drive the impressive returns that the production preparation process is capable of. The middle of a fast-paced project is not the time, for example, to figure out how to create a poka-yoke.
  • Even with basic Lean skills, 3P is exceptionally hard to do. Most people have a hard time making the leap to the creative, unbounded setting that is required. Leading this type of event without formal training and a lot of practice is even more difficult. But 3P provides a competitive advantage precisely because it is hard to do well. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Find someone who shows promise in 3P, and make them an expert. Send them to other companies to get in events. Find places for them to go for training. But resist the urge for them to get their hands on a copy of a training module and try to learn it on their own. A poorly executed project early on can cause a loss of confidence in a great tool.
  • 3P seems to be most effective when there is something tangible to look at. Writing computer code, or doing electronics design are hard to get a cross-functional team up to speed on. Physical products are easier for people to contribute to without formal design experience. 3Ps are, however, useful for service oriented processes because it is easier for teams to conceptualize the flow of work. 

Production Preparation Process events provide great opportunities to develop Lean skills, but we recommend that people participating in other events first. Kaizen projects tend to have a mix of learning and results, whereas 3P events tends to have much loftier goals. It is easy for people inexperienced in Lean to feel overwhelmed.

That said, for those people having some basic skills, a 3P event is an eye-opening experience. Because the teams are generally larger and include more seasoned Lean veterans, there is a wealth of mentorship available. Most people walk away from a 3P event feeling drained due to the fast pace and intellectually demanding environment, but also get a great deal of satisfaction from the accomplishments of the team. 

Plan. Plan. Plan.

Follow-up. Follow-up. Follow-up.

While 3P events generate great results when the team is gathered, the planning and follow-up are the keys to success, and that falls squarely on the shoulders of the leadership team. Don’t skimp on the planning time. Also, make sure you closely monitor any open action items after the event, as team members tend to quickly move back to their regular jobs when an event is completed.

Also, make sure that 3P events are focused on results. Many Lean efforts provide great training and coaching opportunities, but the primary purpose of a 3P event should be implementing significant change. The team should be stacked with experienced people, and the training should be focused primarily on the 3P process, not on basic Lean concepts. Sitting through what amounts to remedial training for experienced team members will sap their energy and hinder results.

  • The Production Preparation Process is a powerful Lean tool, but is best suited to teams with significant continuous improvement experience.
  • These events should contain star players on the team. They will be required to not only come up with ideas, but also figure out how to test them out.


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