The A3 problem solving method, like many other concepts related to Lean manufacturing, originated at Toyota and saw active use at the organization for a long time. The name is relatively simple to use and very intuitive for leaders who already have at least some experience in the area of lean, and it’s seen many applications since its original inception.
The standard way of implementing the A3 method is with a specific chart drawn up on a sheet of A3 paper, which is also where the method gets its name from. The chart is flexible in its design and can be adapted to various different industries and styles of work, but its elements remain pretty much the same across the board. The only difference is in the way they are combined with each other, as some organizations might choose to omit specific parts of the chart.
Each step of the process is categorized under several major groups, which are used to split the solution into discrete general parts. Generally, you can split the process into four steps:
- PLAN – develop a basic plan for addressing the problem and identify each individual step required for adequate planning
- DO – put the plan into action and implement all necessary changes in your organization
- CHECK – verify the results of your solution and make sure that you’ve actually made a positive impact on the company
- ACT – ensure that successful solutions are spread with the appropriate parties that can benefit from them in the future
While the four steps mentioned above outline the general process, a typical A3 chart would have more steps than that, typically around eight. For example, the planning stage can be separated into three or even more unique stages – identifying the requirements for the current solution, identifying the points of the organization that will be affected by the implementation, figuring out the root cause, and so on.
How you’re going to split up those steps is up to you, but it’s important to think of the future and always do this separation in a way that allows you to reuse the chart in case of another problematic situation later on.
For example, not all companies need to put a lot of effort into the ACT stage of the solution, as sometimes the implementation will be done in the only department that’s affected by it, and nobody else needs to know the exact details of how the problem was solved. After all, sharing too much information can be just as counterproductive as sharing too little, and you should avoid burdening departments with irrelevant details that don’t matter in their current work.
Refining the Method in the Future
Once you’ve successfully implemented the A3 method in your organization a few times, you may start to notice some common points that affect how well it works in the specific context of your operations. With enough time, you’ll build up some experience and intuition in this area, and you’ll start to identify some patterns in the way A3 is being applied.
In the end, you’ll likely come up with a version of A3 that’s fine-tuned for your specific organization and even perhaps some departments, and as long as you keep that version tuned to any new developments in the company, you should see good results in the long run.
Don’t Forget the Alternatives
Another important detail that you shouldn’t forget is that A3 is just one of many problem-solving techniques, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the ideal one for each type of problem that arises in your organization. A good leader will take a lot of time to familiarize themselves with the current trends in the field of problem-solving methodologies, and will always stay up to date on new developments.
The A3 method is a great tool once you grasp the idea of its usage, and while some situations definitely call for an alternative approach and A3 is not the ideal solution in those cases, solid knowledge of this particular methodology is still an incredibly useful asset to have in your toolkit. Even if you don’t end up using it a lot, simply familiarizing yourself with the fundamentals of its operation can open your eyes to some general high-level concepts in workplace organization and optimization.