First developed by Toyota, A3 thinking is a vital lean manufacturing tool because of the structure, focus, collaboration and consensus it brings to problem solving and decision making. An A3 report tells a continuous improvement story that turns the #PDCA wheel and drives organizational success!
What is an A3 Report?
An A3 report is typically a single page or sheet of paper that’s used to share a story about how a specific organizational challenge or problem was overcome through systematic implementation of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) process. A key feature of A3 is its comprehensive brevity. In fact, A3 is named for the A3 paper size which on which A3 reports are typically created. While the dimensions of the A3 paper size are approximately 11 x 17 inches, the power of the A3 report doesn’t come from the precise dimensions of the paper that A3 derives its name from. Rather, it comes from the process of condensing the most essential information about an improvement initiative onto a single page.
Done properly, developing an A3 helps teams to identify the most crucial elements of a problem or situation by following PDCA. That said, the A3 document alone is not a solution to problems. It’s critical thinking, teamwork, and the adhering to the PDCA cycle that delivers value.
Another key point to note is that while the A3 process is standard, the format of an A3 document is extremely flexible. There is no strict A3 template to be followed. This means that each A3 report is somewhat unique.
There are various ways A3 reports can be utilized including the following:
- Problem solving
- Capital expenditure request
- Hew hire justification
- Project Planning
- Annual planning
Some benefits of using A3 are:
- Information is on one page
- Keeps things focused and concise
- Uses visuals and charts
- Collaboration and consensus
A3 Report Anatomy
While the visual layout of an A3 is flexible, most A3 reports contain many of the same areas. Let’s look at areas common to a problem solving A3.
- Header: The header describes the subject or idea of the A3. You can likewise include the area, the process and the business name in this section.
- Current State: In the current state section you need to describe the problem you are trying to solve. Additionally, you may utilize this area of the A3 to define the gap between the current state and the target future state.
- Background and Supporting Data: This section is where you should report important background information or supporting details. You are strongly encouraged to utilize visual communication here such as charts and graphs.
- Root Cause Analysis: Once we’ve defined the problem, we need to conduct a root cause analysis. This section outlines the specific root cause analysis conducted and the suspected root causes. Keep in mind that the specific root cause analysis conducted is up to you. For example, you might use 5-whys analysis, Ishikawa (fishbone) diagrams, Pareto charts, failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA), or any of the many other root cause analysis tools. Whichever tools you use, just remember that for each identified root cause should lead to one or more countermeasures.
- Actions: This section reports each of the countermeasures taken for each root cause. note of all the countermeasures for every root cause. Note that for each action that must be done to implement each countermeasure, it should also be noted who is responsible for action, what the action entails and the action deadline.
- Check & Act: This section is where you report the results of the countermeasures taken and determine whether they were effective. Here it is similarly important to note who is responsible for conducting the check, how the verification process will be conducted, when the check should be conducted, and how often it should be carried out.A key point here is that it is not uncommon for countermeasures to fail. However, keep in mind, that regardless of a countermeasure’s effectiveness, by using A3 to report on problems in this simple format, we ensure that we have learned something new and relevant that can easily and effectively be communicated with others.
Sample A3 Report
As mentioned, the A3’s visual layout is fully customizable. Feel free to resize, or relocate sections as makes sense for your specific situation. However, remember that the areas presented in the A3 must be followed regardless of what type of A3 you are working on.
That said, considering the PDCA process, left of the sheet is typically best used primarily for planning (P). That leaves the upper right side to focus more on the do phase where we aim to implement countermeasures for every main cause identified. That leaves the bottom right of the page for check (C) and act (A) phases, where we check if the countermeasures were successful or not.
Because there is no mandated template for an A3 report, it’s likely that your A3 will differ in layout. Again, that’s perfectly acceptable. In fact, many people even utilize three columns instead of two. Just remember, that while you can experiment with the layout, be sure to follow the process.
Solving Big Problems with A3
A common objection to A3 thinking is that a single sheet simply can’t adequately manage enormous multi-faceted enterprise scale problems. Experienced lean experts are quick to acknowledge that this is in fact true. However, there is an important caveat.
While a single sheet cannot always address extremely large and complex problems, that does not mean that the A3 process cannot address these problems. That is, is certain circumstances you may need multiple sheets. In these cases, large problems are simply broken down into smaller sub-projects and connected to one another in terms of a parent-child relationship. Parent A3s address a broader scope and it’s Child A3s address narrower scopes within the domain of the Parent A3.
The key point here is that the A3 process is a powerful tool that can be adapted to solving problems of any scale.