So what is an A3?
An A3 is a simple one page format problem solving methodology that is based on lean principles.

It makes communicating ideas simple and eliminates the need for constructing time consuming powerpoint presentations. The method is simple to apply, using pencil, paper (A3 format obviously!) and inputs from the team on the ground floor.

The A3 Template
The A3 template has been constructed in a way that forces the users to populate key information in an accurate and concise manner. Here is an overview of the information required when using the A3 method:

  • Background - what is the reason for working on the issue (business case)?
  • Current State - description of the current issue
  • Overall Goal / Target - what improvement are we trying to achieve?
  • Analysis - what are the root causes of the issue?
  • Proposed Actions - what steps do we plan to take to address the issue?
  • Planning - what resources are needed & when is the best timing?
What are the benefits of using the A3 method?

The tool is flexible and can be used in a variety of situations. It has been designed to keep things simple by focusing on the facts. Its design ensures consistency across different problem solving or continuous improvement initiatives. It also encourages the use of additional Lean tools for analysis such as Fishbone Diagram, Five Why Analysis, PDCA action planning and pareto charts. This results in more staff being exposed to & implementing additional Lean skills and tools into their everyday work. This can be the tipping point for shifting the culture of the business towards performance excellence.

The PDCA Principle
PDCA stands for Plan, Do, Check, Act. It is a structured process for driving actions to fix ongoing issues and prevent their re-occurrence. Planning involves identifying and describing the issue. Do is where you take action to rectify the issue. Check is where you determine if the issue has been fixed. Act is when you close-off completed and successful actions or you re-plan more actions if those taken did not resolve the issue.

Tools Supporting A3 Analysis
Fishbone Diagram - a fishbone shaped tools used to brainstorm possible contributing factors to an issue. Fixed headers are used eg. Materials, Method, Man, Machine, Measurement) to keep the users focused on brainstorming contributing factors and not slip into problem solving mode, this comes later.

Five Why Analysis - ask “why?” five times to any issue & you will identify the root cause. The root cause is what you should focus all corrective actions on. Don’t waste time on the symptoms.

PDCA Action Plan - a clear table describing issues, corrective actions , owners, deadlines and status. It is important to remember that only one owner should ever be assigned to a particular action. That keeps accountability and action status checking clear and easy to follow-up on.

Example of A3 Problem Solving
Above is an example of the A3 tool in action. I used it with a relatively small construction business that was starting to struggle due to a lack of skilled workers. They had been using an agency to temporarily fix the issue but it was proving expensive and the quality of skilled workers was very inconsistent. It was only a band-aid measure that was not addressing the root cause of the issue. It was time for a change.

Training on the A3 method was completed with two members of the management team that volunteered to be guinea pigs for the business and try the method. You will see how they used the tool to analyse the issue in depth and plan actions that I'm confident will ensure they create a sustainable pipeline for attracting and retaining skilled workers in the business.

I hope you see how this simple tool can be used to drive very effective problem solving and continuous improvement initiatives.

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MD of PerfEx Consulting Pty Ltd. Extensive operations experience across construction, med device, pharma, food, beverage & public health. Qualifications include Lean 6 Sigma (MBB), Proj. Mgt, Org. Behaviour, Quality Mgt Systems, Safety Leadership, PhD Molecular Biology & Hons BSc Microbiology.