Can A Lean Approach Improve Your Selection Process?

Posted By: Ann M. Leiner

By Ann M. Leiner

In comparison to other industries, the construction industry has struggled to increase productivity for many decades. A/E/C firms design and build much the same way they’ve always done it. Technologies have changed, but processes have really not.

In response to continued productivity challenges, some organizations are turning to Lean Construction processes to enhance collaboration and improve efficiency. Lean techniques like pull planning; just-in-time materials delivery; offsite prefabrication; target value design; and, the use of A3s for decision-making have also proven valuable for other industries.

Below are some examples of how Owners have found success by incorporating one of these techniques into their procurement process. 

“A3 Thinking”
The A3 Process is named after a simple sheet of paper, typically 11”x 17” in the United States. The approach was originally developed by Toyota, and is recommended by the Lean Construction Institute and Lean Enterprise Institute.

In the book Transforming Design & Construction: A Framework for Change, the Lean Construction Institute (link: ) states that, “Done correctly, A3 reporting can provide concise project updates for senior oversight individuals and drive faster input and feedback. It can also provide a regular snapshot of project health.” Other identified benefits include:

  • Creation of a historic record of decision-making rationale
  • Increased confidence in decisions made
  • Identification of root causes
  • Presentation of a dashboard of important data
  • Sharing of information among all stakeholders
  • Development of consensus among decision-makers

For several years, A3s have been used for project decision-making and dashboard summaries of design and construction progress. Some construction Owners are now utilizing the A3 approach for proposals.

Traditional Professional Selections
The professional selection process has not changed for several decades, despite being inefficient and cumbersome. Traditionally, it entails several steps:

  • Inviting or soliciting vendors for a design or construction project.
  • Developing and issuing a Request For Qualifications (RFQ) and/or Request For Proposals (RFP).
  • Creating standardized approaches for vendors to submit (e.g. paper, electronic, drive).
  • Reviewing submissions.
  • Developing long lists and shortlists.
  • Holding interviews with potential vendors.
  • Selecting and negotiating with the best-value firm(s) or team(s).

The process can be burdensome, sometimes involving team members on the Owner-side with limited understanding of what they are reviewing. It may also include overworked project and facilities staff with other priorities to address and limited time to review stacks of proposals.

Further, proposal reviewers have complained for years about how similar qualification submissions and proposals appear to be, making the selection process difficult because it’s difficult to differentiate between the submittals. This adds an additional pressure on the reviewers to “get it right.”

Yet, the proposal process is necessary with competitive solicitations often dictated by agencies, institutions, and corporations. The firms that develop traditional proposals in response too often boilerplate RFQs and RFPs hate them as much as the reviewers. Are these proposals a “necessary evil” and everyone should just deal with it? Or is there another way – an alternative approach that could streamline the process while elevating the quality of vendor proposals?

How Owners Have Improved Their Proposal Process With A3 Thinking
An A3 proposal can be prescriptive or more free-form. For instance, a large institution released a Request for Qualifications, with the limitation of a single-page cover letter and two A3s. They asked for the following information to be addressed:

  • Executive Summary
  • Project Team
  • Experience/Reference Projects
  • Challenges & Risks
  • Disadvantaged Business Participation
  • Unique Qualifications

Another Owner, a state agency, solicited proposals from construction managers, allowing an empty-canvas approach:
“Each proposal shall be submitted as two A3 sheets (or 11 x 17 sheets)…. The content may be formatted and organized in whatever manner the proposer desires. The proposer may place whatever content they desire on the A3. This allows the proposer to use their imagination and best judgement in ‘selling’ their firm’s experience, qualifications, capabilities, etc.”

Owners and facilities managers utilizing this approach have learned how it can simplify the decision-making process. Not only can it significantly reduce the amount of time spent on proposal review, it can also greatly enhance the understanding of the vendor’s submission.

Too often vendors rely on boilerplate content. They might not have a good grasp of the true project drivers, but their proposal is filled with copious amounts of off-the-shelf narratives, making it difficult to even find whether or not they are addressing the key success factors for a project.

This “Baffle them with BS” approach is totally eliminated with the A3 process. Because of the extreme limitations of the format (one or two 11” x 17” pages), vendors must focus on providing the highest value, most important information, and whether or not it has been prescribed in the RFP or RFQ. A quick glance at an A3 will reveal if the vendor truly understands the project on which they are proposing. 

In turn, this allows for quick comparisons between firms as compared to the current approach with 20, 40, even 50-page proposals. These proposals have volumes of information – often irrelevant – and apples-to-apples comparisons can be extremely difficult.

What really matters to reviewers and for the specific project? The A3 approach highlights this information and makes it easier to determine the firms or teams that best “get it.”  Further, non-technical individuals involved with an A3 selection are better able to make informed decisions. This could be the professor who will be occupying the academic building or the surgeon who will utilize the operating room. 

A3 submissions can be used for qualifications, proposals, and presentations – and then as part of the project-reporting process. Certainly, the A3 is not a be-all, end-all for every project, but it can be part of a larger proposal or serve as the proposal itself. 

For example, one Owner allows five 8.5” x 11” pages along with two A3 pages. Owners need to decide the approach that makes the most sense. Perhaps the A3 can help Owners get to a long-list or short-list, and then more detailed information can be required from qualified vendors. One size does not fit all, yet there are few proposals that couldn’t benefit from a full or partial A3 approach.

Learn More
Interested in learning more about A3s and seeing a sample proposal format? Visit for more information. Want to learn more about how Owners can incorporate A3s into a selection process? Contact Ann M. Leiner, Chief Connection Officer, at 814-934-7000 or