Also known as A3 Problem Solving.
Variants include 8D and CAPA.
As a leader, a big part of your job is to solve problems as they come up. There are many approaches and tools that can help in the area of problem solving which is the driving force behind continuous improvement. They range from the more complex Six Sigma methodologies to the simple A3 thinking approach.
A3 thinking is a logical and structured approach for problem solving and continuous improvement. It can be used for most kinds of problems and in any part of the business. It is adopted by Lean organizations around the world and developed as part of the Toyota Production System (TPS). A3 thinking provides a systematic approach for problem solving, and at the same time develops and maintains a culture for continuous improvement.
The power of the A3 approach lies in the systematic and structured method it takes to solve problems. Although it appears to be a step-by-step process, A3 is built around the PDCA philosophy. It relies on the principle that it is much better to address the real root-cause rather than trying to find a solution. Hence, it’s important not to jump to the solution when solving a problem as it is likely to be less effective.
A3 thinking is the practice of getting the problem, analysis, countermeasures, and action plan written on a single sheet of paper (typically on an A3 size sheet of paper). This will provide a concise summary of the project and considered to be a good storytelling tool to communicate any project. You don’t need a special software or computer skills to use the A3 approach. You may however use ready made A3 templates or just a pencil and an eraser as you will need to erase and rewrite several times.
A3 thinking is not just a problem-solving or a planning tool. The development of a continuous improvement culture is at the core of A3 thinking. It has become one of the most popular lean tools today where people and teams work together to solve problems, share results and learn from each other. It promotes collaboration and knowledge sharing and encourages learning and continuous improvement.
One of the characteristics of the A3 approach is that it does not get into specific details. Detailed documents are usually attached to the A3 report, so you don’t get overwhelmed with the details when viewing the A3 report.
The A3 process usually contains multiple stages based on the PDCA model. It focuses on developing understanding of the current situation and where you would like to be before thinking about the solution. The number of stages may vary depending on the preference of the company. The exact number of stages, however, is not what matters but rather having a structured approach for problem-solving.
A3 Seven Stages Model
1. Background – The first step is to identify the business reason for choosing this problem or opportunity. In this stage, you need to identify the gap in performance and the extent of the problem.
2. Current situation – The purpose of this stage is to document the current state of the problem. You may need to refer to the process map or go to the Gemba to truly understand the current situation.
3. Target – The purpose of this stage is to define the desired future state. Clearly identify the expected benefits from solving the problem, the scope, and the key metrics that will help measure the success of the project.
4. Analysis – The purpose of this stage is to dig into the problem and understand why it’s happening. This stage may be complex and requires advanced statistical tools.
5. Countermeasures – Countermeasures are the actions to be taken to eliminate root causes or reduce their effects. Brainstorm and evaluate possible countermeasures based on the analysis conducted earlier.
6. Implementation Plan – To achieve the target, develop a workable plan to implement the countermeasures. Gantt charts are great ways to manage implementation plans very simply and easily. Once the action plan is completed, the team should begin working on the action items to implement the countermeasures.
7. Follow-up – The final stage allows to evaluate the implemented plan and the achievement of outcomes. Follow-up actions are important to ensure the benefits continue beyond the life of the project.
An A3 process is often managed by an individual who should own and maintain the A3 report. He/she should drive the process, encourage team participation, and draw up the A3 report with the support and input of the team.
A3 thinking is considered to be the practical form of the PDCA model.
There are many online templates that can be used to manage your problem-solving efforts. Please check our A3 problem solving template.
A3 thinking provides an effective way to bring together many of the problem-solving tools into one place. For example, 5 whys and fishbone analysis can be used in the Analysis stage to help identifying the root causes. A3 will also provide people with concise updates and a snapshot of the project health. It’s therefore important that you use visuals and graphs in the A3 report as they are more effective than text in communicating ideas.
If you want to use the following three documents in your training courses, the PPTX versions are available to buy from our Shop page.