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A3 thinking

A3 Thinking refers to an 11x17 inch form formatted to solve problems, and comes into play in the 'Plan' step of the PDCA tool.

As discussed previously, continuous improvement is of key importance in Lean thinking.

The term Kaizen (pronounced kahy-zen) means ‘change for the better’ and is associated with small, continuous changes.

In many cases, it is easy to identify the change when a problem happens. But what if the improvement isn’t so obvious? That is where a tool like A3 Thinking comes in.

Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)

To understand A3 Thinking, we must first understand PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act), the tool introduced to Toyota by Edward Deming.

  • In the Plan step, the problem solver investigates the problem thoroughly, determines the root cause, and identifies steps to resolve the problem.
  • In the Do step, the plan is implemented.
  • The Check step involves looking at the results of the work.
  • The Act step consists of reviewing the results and taking the next steps.

A3 comes into play in the first step, Plan. A3 provides a canvas to examine the problem, consider alternatives, examine the root cause, and only after getting this complete understanding, come up with a plan to resolve the problem.

What is A3 Thinking?

In simple terms, it refers to an 11×17 inch form formatted to solve problems.

A3 is a standard ISO paper size having dimensions 297 x 420 mm (11.7 x 16.5 inches), which gives this approach its name.

An example of an A3 form consisting of a background, current situation, set targets or goals, root cause analysis, countermeasures, implementation, and follow up (Take a closer look)

While there is no one single format, fields on the form typically include:

  • Problem Statement
  • Current State/Root Cause
  • Recommendations
  • Future State
  • Required Resources
  • Alternatives Considered
  • Issues & Risks
  • Next Steps

But the A3 form is more than just a template that someone fills out in isolation. It is meant to be used as a collaborative tool. It is also used to gain consensus along the way as the solution is being developed. However, there should be a champion/owner of the A3 to drive the work. It is also common to have a senior executive to guide/coach the champion driving the A3 to completion.

What is the purpose?

The approach (using a single page) is meant to act as a constraint to keep the information on the form-focused. Users are also encouraged to use drawings, diagrams, etc.—not just text. The A3 form should be completed in a logical and objective way.

Root cause analysis is a key part of the A3 approach. The user is encouraged to use a technique such as 5-Why’s or Ishikawa diagramming. As the user applies these techniques and gains a better understanding of the root cause, it is not uncommon to realize that the actual problem is different from what was stated in the problem statement. The A3 form is updated as new information is obtained.

Let’s put what you’ve learned into practice through the discussion in the next step.

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