What does 3P Stand For?

3P, “Production Preparation Process,” is a method introduced to the US in the mid-80’s by Chihiro Nakao, a contemporary of Mr. Ohno, and founder of Shingijutsu consulting.  I recall the method was called “New Production Preparation” (NPP) early along, but apparently succumbed to a marketing intervention, hence 3P.   The basic idea of 3P is to achieve, in Mr. Nakao’s words, “breakthrough or transformational changes in production process” through rapid, integrated prototyping of both product and process.

I had a 3P experience recently that reminded me how much I learn from customers.  My inspiration occurred during a “mini-event” to develop a build-out addition to a surgery center.  The decision to use a 3P approach to develop a better floor layout was made pretty late in the process. We had one week to investigate the current condition and understand design requirements. Then, we began, a team of eight clinicians – docs, nurses, techs and housekeepers — to “trystorm”, a term connoting brainstorming activity combined with actual doing.   The first of Mr. Nakao’s  “16 Catch Phrases” advocates minimal pre-planning and “lightning fast” prototyping, a criteria we closely followed: the event lasted 1½ days.

Most of the 3P team had minimal previous exposure to Lean concepts.  But all were very passionate about patient care and “constructively dissatisfied” (a theme I take up in GBMP’s DVD Moments of Truth) with the status quo at the surgery center:  Bed shortages in the recovery area, ORs waiting for available beds in recovery, surgeons waiting for ORs and, of course, patients waiting for everything.

When I introduced the concept ofpatient-centeredhealthcare from a Lean perspective, a connection between passion and principle occurred – not a perfect understanding, more a fuzzy idea that focusing on the care from the patient’s point of view might yield a breakthrough.   By the end of the first day (actually half-day), there was consensus regarding the status quo and a first pass concept for improvement.  We agreed to “sleep on it.”  This, I have found is a very important, if not scheduled, part of the 3P process.

On day two we jumped into trystorming with a vengeance.  One participant advised that she’d awakened at 2:00 a.m. with a thought.  “What was it?”  I asked.  “That we might not come up with a better layout.” she replied.  Nervous laughter.  We trudged on with a concept that was based upon “adjacencies,” a word that connotes relative locations of departments to facilitate workflow.  I reminded the team to focus on patient flow, and placed a couple Lego people on the prototype layout to signify the patient and his family.  As we broke for lunch, there was a feeling within the team that the trystorm layout created so far would not be a breakthrough.  We were facing a 4:00 p.m. deadline for a solution, and CHI-E was kicking in.

Lunch was over quickly  — back to work.  A team member blurted out as we restarted, “If we can’t fix the recovery area problem, the rest of this expansion won’t matter.”   “Go with that idea,” I suggested.  A new layout idea developed quickly working back from an “ideal patient recovery area.”   The principle was right: patient-focused.  Ideas were popping now: trystorming and more trystorming.  Within an hour, the team was sensing a breakthrough, and anxiety turned to excitement.   By four o’clock, an operationally superior plan emerged that was, in the architect’s words, “totally different from what we would have drawn.”

A follow-up email from the project leader for this 3P effort sums it up:

“I know that my staff who were able to come really gained valuable perspectives and were definitely engaged in ‘thinking outside the box’. I must admit that I was unsure how we could begin to make change, but count me in as a true believer in the process. I have always believed that if you need change to happen, it needs to happen with the caregivers first- it needs to be their ideas or the change never happens. I think this is only the beginning for us and I hope to be able to use what I learned from now on every day.”

So what did I learn from this customer?  That, if the right people (in this case the direct patient providers) have the passion to improve, then the keystone to improvement is the right principle.  The technical side of lean is important, but the people side is essential:

3P = People + Passion + Principle

Do you have a 3P experience you can share?  Please send it along.


BTW:  Speaking of principle-based transformation, there’s still time to register for the fast-approaching International Shingo Conference in Jacksonville, April 30 – May 4.  I’ll be there, and hope to see you too.

5 thoughts on “What does 3P Stand For?

  1. pcwilson5211

    Like many breakthroughs, we lucked into the 3P process about six years ago thanks to a friend forwarding an article. In a recent project, the team needed to balance ease of manufacturability, improved design for use, improved functionality and lowest enterprise cost for a USA made part from either iron, aluminum or polypropolene. The benchmark cost parts were made in China and India. We had the right people in the room from engineering, manufacturing, machining, assembly and supply chain who were emotionally committed to the project. Additionally they had gathered a lot of Voice of the Customer input and worked closely with casting and injection molding suppliers. The result was sufficient cost savings and additional features that kept these parts in a domestic supply chain and delighted our current customers (and attracted new ones!).

    This breakthrough (or series of breakthroughs) resulted from having passionate, talented people utilizing the 3P process.

  2. Tom Warda


    I’ve noted in other lean forums that there’s probably more mis-information than really good information out there on Nakao-san’s 3P process. Your article has the good stuff as usual. The company I work for was fortunate enough to work with Shingijutsu (and Nakao-san) for a number of years and I got to experience his 3P process. As you have so correctly stated, used properly, it can lead to some truly breakthrough processes. And as you have experienced, the effects on team members are equally amazing.

    One component of the process that you didn’t mention always amused me. That would be the part where Nakao-san turned everybody back into 6 year old kids. (You even had to sign a “pledge” form.) His reasoning was that at that age, you were smart enough to follow his directions on the 3P process, but not smart enough to know “the way things were supposed to work.” Oh, and you were just smart / dumb enough to keep asking why. That is a truly critical component because it allows you to totally throw everything about your current process away and come up with something completely new, different and better. Some of the results we saw were absolutely awesome.

    So the only additional advice I would offer would be to make sure you get an experienced 3P practitioner to guide you through the process if you’ve never done it before. Done correctly, it’s awesome. Done incorrectly, it can be pretty bad.


  3. Bruce Hamilton

    Thanks for the thoughtful follow-ups to this post. They say “You’re never too old to learn”, but on reflection I think that the persons I know who keep on learning are the one’s who’ve never lost the natural curiosity they were born with. More about that in a later post.

  4. Lorenzo Mendoza

    Creation of proprietary technology is a powerful example of the project execution and abilities business firms should have nowadays, to capitalize on market opportunities. On late November 2010, the Latin America sales force approached our operations team, about a big opportunity to take over on a poorly served business segment. Utilizing 3P (Production Preparation Process) I was able to put a team together, design and build a right sized machine, that generates zero waste, utilize minimum space, is operated with a third of labor compared with OEM machines, and produce to customer demand. The overall cost of this patentable piece of equipment was below 10% the cost of an OEM machine. The market penetration happened within a 8 months span. I had the opportunity to work with akao San on 3P almos 14 yeas ago, but recently have received extensive training on 3P from Kurosaka San, Shingijutsu consulting’s top talented subject matter expert. While KaiZen is about small and sustained improvement steps, 3P is about Kaikeku, a dramatic leap forward in performance that generates powerful business competitive advantages

  5. Christiaan - Green Belt

    Thank you for sharing this article. The people side is very important! One of the two pillars of Lean management is ‘respect for people’. What a great formula you came up with: 3P = People + Passion + Principle

    Keep bringing up the people side 🙂


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