A3 Thinking and Problem-Solving 101

A3 is simply a problem-solving method similar to PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) and DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyse-Improve-Control). However, it’s actually derived from PDCA and was developed by Toyota. You’ll see as I take you through A3 how it follows the steps of PDCA. The name A3 relates to the size of paper originally used for this problem-solving method, this size being chosen because this was the largest paper size that could be faxed! A3 is a collaborative and visual tool (graphs and diagrams should be included).

To complete the A3 process you follow these 8 steps:

1. Clarify the problem
2. Breakdown the problem
3. Set a target
4. Analyse the root cause
5. Develop countermeasures
6. Create a countermeasures implementation plan
7. Evaluate results and processes
8. Standardise

These steps follow the PDCA methodology, as shown below:

A3 and PDCA

Here is an example of what an A3 Report looks like:

A3 Problem Solving

How an A3 looks against PDCA:

A3 against PDCA

You may notice that not all A3 templates look the same and they vary slightly from example to example. Don’t get too hung up on which A3 template is the right one. As long as your A3 defines the problem you’re solving and how you solved it then you’re on the right track. Like all problem-solving tools and methods make it work for you. To guide you, please, feel free to use this template and I will talk you through the steps below:

In this section, you’re stating what the problem is. Write a sentence or two regarding the problem you’re trying to solve and why.

Current State
In this section, you’ll provide more detail such as when the problem started? You’ll quantify the problem, e.g. time, cost, number of complaints – always use facts. Add any visuals such as tables, images, sketches, charts, drawings, etc. to show the problem clearly. Remember to also include a target – “where would we like to be performing at?”

In this section, you’ll display your analysis of the problem and what you’ve identified as the root cause. To find the root cause use tools such as the Cause and Effect diagram with the 5 Whys. You can add a version of your Cause and Effect Diagram to the A3 here or summarise it depending on your needs.

In this section, you’ll write short bullet point sentences about how you will solve the problem. It’s generally recommended to have both quick fixes and more detailed, longer-term solutions.

In this section, you’ll list a set of actions to be completed by whom and by when. Most people do this in a table form.

Evaluate Results
In this section, you simply evaluate the results of your improvements, for example cost savings or time saved. It is worth remembering that although not all improvements generate these types of results, enhancing customer satisfaction, improving staff engagement, removing frustration from the workplace, etc. can be equally important and therefore should be evaluated and reported on in exactly the same way.

Follow Up Actions
During the improvement process wider issues may have been identified, so write a sentence or two describing these.

Sign Off
The manager who is responsible for the particular process that has been improved should sign off the A3.

And this is how you complete an A3 problem-solving report. The real work is in the actual analysis of the problem and the implementation of a solution. The A3 simple gives you a guide to what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, when you’re doing it and what the results are. This is much easier to follow and absorb than a 10 page in-depth report.

By | 2017-09-14T16:44:55+00:00 June 3rd, 2016|Articles|2 Comments


  1. Reykjavik Car Rentals March 28, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    Thank you for sharing this helpful and useful post. It is really a guide to A3 problem-solving method. I’ll definitely use it in the future.

  2. Brady Blow April 1, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    I enjoyed reading your blog keep up the great work

Leave A Comment