A Google search of the term 3P quickly results in four definitions of the three Ps. In this article, we will present all four, talk about their benefits, present an interesting example and provide some best practices for applying the 3P approach regardless of the version you choose to utilize.  

Overview: What is 3P? 

There are four different explanations of the 3Ps. The first and most common is that the 3Ps stand for Production, Preparation, and Process. This 3P approach was first introduced by Chihiro Nakao, founder of Shingijutsu consulting and contemporary of Taiichi Ohno, the developer of the Toyota Production System (TPS). Nakao described this lean manufacturing approach as…breakthrough or transformational changes in production process using unique problem solving approaches.”

Lean Six Sigma and DMAIC usually rely on a gradual or continuous improvement process. Nakao wanted his 3P approach to make significant breakthrough changes quickly through rapid, integrated prototyping of both product and process. 

Nakao developed 16 catchphrases you could use as a checklist for applying the 3P concept. They are intended to capture the essence of the Toyota Production System. 

The catchphrases are:

  1. Production preparation should be lightning fast.
  2. Build and layout equipment for smooth material flow.
  3. Use additive equipment.
  4. Build equipment that is easy to set up.
  5. Make equipment easy to set up.
  6. Use versatile equipment.
  7. Make operator workstations narrow.
  8. Equipment and layout should allow people to move easily.
  9. Eliminate wasted machine cycle time.
  10. Build equipment for small, swift flow lines.
  11. Use short vertical flow lines.
  12. Build equipment for one-piece pull.
  13. Build in quick changeover.
  14. Link machines for smooth loading and unloading.
  15. Use multiple lines and rectified flows.
  16. Spiral upwards to Jidoka.

Another definition of 3P is People, Process, and Product. You would use this in the context of improving a possible fourth P — Performance.

  1. People: People are your major resource in any business.
  2. Process: Your process must be capable and functioning well.
  3. Product: If you have good people working in a good process, you will get a good product.

This use of these 3Ps is more descriptive than the prescriptive nature of Nakao’s 3Ps.

A third definition of 3P that you will run across is People, Process, and Productivity. This is not unlike the definition above, although there is a slight difference.

  1. People: There must be a good working environment that values people and helps them reach their potential.
  2. Process: The process must add value to your customer.
  3. Productivity: You must use appropriate business tools to improve the process.

Doing this should also allow you to improve the performance of your organization. Again, this is more descriptive than prescriptive.

The last definition of the 3Ps is People, Process, and Profits. This one goes straight to the bottom line. If you have good people, working in a good process, you will achieve profits and business success. This perspective views people and processes as the drivers and profits as the result. The CFO of a large consumer products company was fond of saying, “If you have the right people doing the right things, the numbers will follow.”

3 benefits of 3P 

Anytime that you strive to achieve breakthrough improvement in a rapid fashion, you will have benefits. Here are a few. 

1. Rapid  

By using some of the 16 catchphrases of 3P, you will be able to quickly arrive at improvements. For example, the first catchphrase is “Production preparation should be lightning fast.” This would refer to rapid changeover and setup.

2. Cross-functional 

As in almost all Lean and Six Sigma improvement activities, your use of cross-functional teams is vital in capturing the broadest set of possible ideas. This also applies to using the 3P approach. 

3. Integrated 

If you review the 16 catchphrases, you will notice that they include the use of a number of different Lean tools. They hint at such Lean concepts as SMED, Cell Flow, Layout, and Pull. 

Why is 3P important to understand? 

Regardless of which 3P concept you choose to use, they all revolve around improvement. Nakoa’s 3P approach is the most prescriptive as a result of the 16C catchphrases.

When building a new process or product

You need to understand how to apply the 3Ps to both new process or new product development. Since the approach will be a bit different, you will want to appropriately apply the 16 catchphrases. 

Know which tool to use 

The 16 catchphrases of 3P provide direction to a variety of Lean tools. You will want to understand which tool applies to which catchphrase.

In greenfield projects

3P is primarily designed to improve an existing process. If you fully understand the 16 catchphrases, you can use the 3P methodology to design a new process either in an existing facility or for a greenfield or new building. 

An industry example of 3P 

A major hospital system was having problems scheduling its operating rooms to accommodate all of the procedures that their physicians were requesting. It would take too long to build a new OR, so the medical director, who had received some Lean Six Sigma training in his executive MBA class, decided to learn more about 3P and apply it to his scheduling problem.

With his team of doctors, nurses, and other support personnel, he selected some of the catchphrases that seemed most appropriate to his situation. The team then analyzed the situation and made recommendations on how to improve the OR to increase capacity thus eliminating the need to build a new OR. 

Here is what they picked and, subsequently, implemented:

  1. Production preparation should be lightning fast.
  2. Build and layout equipment for smooth material flow.
  3. Make equipment easy to set up.
  4. Use versatile equipment.
  5. Equipment and layout should allow people to move easily.
  6. Eliminate wasted machine cycle time.
  7. Build in quick changeover.

3 best practices when thinking about 3P 

The 3P approach developed by Nakoa is intuitively simple yet powerful. Here are a few tips on how you can use the 3Ps in an efficient and effective way.

1. Stay cross-functional 

No one individual has all the answers. You should carefully choose a cross-functional team to create synergy and cross fertilization of ideas. 

2. Keep it simple 

Don’t be tempted to use all the catchphrases on one project. Select a few that you feel are the most relevant and focus on those. Otherwise, your improvement won’t be rapid, and you might get bogged down by the complexity of your efforts.

3. Focus on training 

It will be important for you to provide some level of training for people who will be serving on your 3P team. The process is somewhat structured and will include the use of a number of Lean tools. A basic understanding of the tools that you will be using will be important so your team members can be productive and involved.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about 3P

1. What are the 3Ps? 

While there are a number of different definitions, the most common one is a process developed by Chihiro Nakao where the three Ps stand for Production, Preparation, and Process.

2. What are the 16 catchphrases? 

Nakao developed the 16 catchphrases as a checklist of optional concepts and Lean tools for applying the 3Ps.

3. Can the 3Ps be applied to product development? 

Yes, the 3Ps are designed to be used for both process improvement and product design.

Summarizing 3P 

According to its developer Chihiro Nakao, the 3P approach to improving both process and product design was developed to make “…breakthrough or transformational changes in production process using unique problem solving approaches.”

As an aid to helping you implement the 3Ps, Nakao created a checklist of 16 concepts employing a wide range of common Lean tools. This checklist is referred to as the 16 catchphrases. By selecting those most applicable to your process or product issue, you will be able to create rapid change in your product design process, improve performance, and eliminate waste.

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