A3: What Is the A3 Problem-Solving Method?

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A3 is a problem-solving technique associated with lean manufacturing and used for continuous improvement efforts at many workplaces.

In this article, we’ll explain the origins of the A3 problem-solving method, the different steps involved, and even the unexpected story about why it’s called “A3.”

What Is A3?

We’ll explain all of the details of A3 shortly, but the short answer is it’s a formulaic method to solve a problem and document the different steps in that process.

It’s also used for things like reporting the status of a project and proposing changes to a policy.

Who Created the A3 Problem-Solving Method?

Like many things associated with lean manufacturing, A3 was created in Japan by Toyota as part of the Toyota Production System (TPS). Of course, it’s now used widely throughout the world, as is true of lean manufacturing in general.

There doesn’t seem to be a single person who can be credited with the development of the A3 method. It does have roots in the PDCA cycle, a point we’ll get back to shortly.

What’s the Story Behind the Name of the A3 Method?

A3 is the size of paper that was originally used to document the A3 problem-solving method.

If you, like me, are not super fluent in paper-size talk, it’s about the size of an 11″ x 17″ sheet of paper.

What’s the Point of Using the A3 Process?

The A3 problem-solving method provides a simple, logical, formulaic way to solve a problem and to communicate about the problem to coworkers.

Other nice benefits of the A3 process are that it’s organized, and it focuses on objectives, it forces the A3 report writer to be concise and stick to what’s truly critical.

Finally, it’s an easy thing to teach to employees and have them complete on their own.


What Are the Different Steps in the A3 Problem-Solving Method?

Depending on whom you talk to, you’ll see slightly different numbers of steps in the A3 method. Here’s how we like to think about it (feel free to use the comments section if you have a different opinion).

  1. Background
  2. Current situation
  3. Target or goal
  4. Root-cause analysis
  5. Countermeasures
  6. Implementation plan
  7. Implement
  8. Verification
  9. Follow up–share the story and update standardized work

Let’s look at each step in more detail.

Background

The first step is to clearly identify and briefly describe the problem.

Current Situation

Once you’re described the problem, explain the current situation and context the issue is situation in. Use data and statistics when possible.

During this step, you might want to create a map of the processes that surround, are near, or influence the issue.

Target/Goal

Define goals for what you’d like the desired end state to be.

Keep in mind that as you continue through the A3 process, and as you learn more,  you may benefit from returning to this step and reformulating the goals.

Root-Cause Analysis

Now, try to find the root cause of the problem. Keep in mind that often, the “root cause” is often not just one cause but a collection of interacting factors.

Classic methods in the lean toolbox for determining root cause include the 5 Whys?. In addition, keep in mind that you’ll benefit from applying systems thinking, as many workplace problems are really systemic in nature.

Countermeasures

Propose potential solutions and explain how they’d lead to they’ll reach your goal/target.

Implementation Plan

Create a plan that includes all steps/actions necessary to implement the countermeasure. Note who’s responsible for each step/action/task and when it should be completed.

Implement

Then implement, perhaps on a small scale as a “beta test.”

Verification

Measure to see if the countermeasure actually worked.

If the plan didn’t work, create a new plan, implement that, and then check the results again.

Follow Up–Share the Results and Updated Standardized Work

If the plan did work, leading to a positive result, communicate that to the rest of your organization and integrate the change into standardized work.

How Does the A3 Problem-Solving Method “Map” to the PDCA Cycle?

The A3 problem-solving method can be nicely “mapped” to the different phases of the PDCA cycle, as shown below.

Plan

  • Background
  • Current situation
  • Target or goal
  • Root-cause analysis
  • Countermeasures
  • Implementation plan

Do

  • Implement

Check

  • Verification

Act

  • Follow up–share the story and update standardized work

Conclusion: Add the A3 Problem-Solving Method to Your Workplace Continuous Improvement Toolbox

We hope you found this introduction to the A3 method helpful. Remember that you’ll see slightly different versions and steps when you go to different sources, but they all wind up basically the same.

And before you go, please download our free PDCA Cycle Infographic. Give us a little time and we’ll probably create an A3 template you can download from here as well.

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FREE PDCA Cycle Infographic

Download this free infographic of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle commonly used for quality control, project planning, and continuous improvement.

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. He's worked in training/learning & development for 25 years, in safety and safety training for more than 10, is an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer for General Industry OSHA 10 and 30, has completed a General Industry Safety and Health Specialist Certificate from the University of Washington/Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center and an Instructional Design certification from the Association of Talent Development (ATD), and is a member of the committee creating the upcoming ANSI/ASSP Z490.2 national standard on online environmental, health, and safety training. Jeff frequently writes for magazines related to safety, safety training, and training and frequently speaks at conferences on the same issues, including the Washington Governor's Safety and Health Conference, the Oregon Governor's Occupational Safety and Health Conference, the Wisconsin Safety Conference, the MSHA Training Resources Applied to Mining (TRAM) Conference, and others.

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