By the CIToolkit content team   |   5 minutes read

A3 Thinking

A3 Thinking

As a leader, a big part of your job is to solve problems as they come. 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 process lies in the systematic and structured method it takes to solve problems and implement solutions. Although it appears to be a step-by-step process, A3 is built around the PDCA philosophy. It relies on the belief that it is much better to address the real root-cause of the problem rather than trying to overcome it. Hence, It’s important not to jump to the solution when solving a problem as it is likely to be less effective.

A3 Basic Structure

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. No special software or tool is needed to use the A3 approach. You may however use ready made A3 templates or just a pencil and eraser as you will need to erase and rewrite several times.

An A3 report is a high-level report that 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. A3 thinking helps to solve problems at all levels of the organization from strategic to operational. The flexibility of the A3 approach makes it an ideal tool for many other applications (other than problem solving) such as planning, decision making and innovating.

A3 Other Applications

A3 thinking is not just a report to plan for and report improvement. 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 plans, results and success. It promotes collaboration and knowledge sharing and encourages learning and continuous improvement.

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 needs and preferences of the company. The exact number of stages, however, is not what matters but rather having a structured approach for problem-solving.

A3 Problem Solving Models

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. The most common two tools that are used in this stage are 5 whys and fishbone analysis. This stage may be complex and requires more 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.

A3 Seven Stages Model
One of the most common models for A3 thinking is the seven stages model

A3 thinking provides an effective way to bring together many of the problem-solving tools into one place. It can also provide project team with concise updates and a snapshot of the project health. Make sure you use visuals and graphics in the A3 report as they are more effective than text in communicating ideas.

A3 Template Example
A3 Template Example

There are many online templates that can be used to manage your problem solving efforts. Please check our A3 problem solving template.

Further Information

An A3 process is often managed by an individual who should own and maintain the document. He/she should drive the process and encourage team participation. He/she will draw up the A3 report with the support and input of the team members.

A3 thinking is considered to be the practical form of the PDCA model.

A3 Template Example

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