Did you know that Toyota consistently tops the list of most reliable automotive brands? This is largely due to the Toyota Production System (TPS), a management system developed in Japan between 1948 and 1975. The principles and concepts in TPS, a precursor to Lean manufacturing, have been applied to many types of businesses as a way to reduce waste, improve efficiency, increase quality, and encourage a culture of continuous improvement.
To successfully create a culture of continuous improvement, people must:
- Identify problems and potential issues that could impact productivity and quality.
- Determine the cause of problems so they develop and implement viable solutions.
- Document the solution and share knowledge to ensure the problem doesn’t reoccur.
In this article, we’ll discuss how an A3 template can help you accomplish all three of these goals.
What is the A3 problem-solving method?
Like most concepts and techniques associated with Lean management and Lean manufacturing, A3 problem-solving was developed in Japan as part of TPS.
This problem-solving approach takes its name from the A3 paper size, which is part of the ISO 216 international standard for paper sizes. The closest paper size to A3 in the United States is 11x17, also called ledger or tabloid size.
The A3 method uses a structured, systematic approach to solving problems. The idea is to clearly and concisely document the problem, root cause, solution, implementation plan, and results on a single sheet of paper called an A3 report. The A3 report is shareable and gives everybody an easy-to-understand visual representation of the process for solving a specific problem.
Toyota believed that if a problem was too big to be explained and solved on one side of A3 paper, it should be broken down into smaller pieces. These pieces could then be explained, analyzed, and solved in their own A3 process.
In today’s digital world, page size does not matter. If you use a virtual whiteboard like Lucidspark, there are no restrictions on how big your workspace can be.
When to use the A3 problem-solving process
We often hear about a problem and try to fix it without considering its cause. We might assume we know what’s going on based on experience. But if we don’t accurately determine what is happening, we could miss important information to prevent its reoccurrence.
The A3 problem-solving process helps you better understand problems and create better solutions.
Consider using A3 to solve problems when:
- You need a framework for identifying, analyzing, understanding, and solving problems.
- You want to collaborate with team members, other managers, and key stakeholders to get feedback from multiple perspectives. Collaborating with others eliminates personal biases and provides a better understanding of problems and their root cause so you can make more informed decisions.
- You want to align your team with an easy-to-read document that breaks down important information.
- You are cultivating a culture of continuous improvement. The systematic A3 problem-solving approach helps the organization learn from past mistakes and perform more consistently.
- You want to standardize your process for working through problems in organizations of any size in any industry.
The basic steps of A3 problem-solving
The A3 problem-solving process typically uses the following basic steps:
Step 1: Define the problem
Provide context for the problem you need to solve. Clearly define the problem, its impact on the department or organization, and why it needs to be solved. To better understand the situation, consider observing the work. That way, you visualize the problem and get valuable input from team members about what might be causing it.
Step 2: Analyze the current situation
Gather data by sending surveys, interviewing team members, mapping the process, etc. The data will give you valuable information about the current state of a process or project. This can help you identify contributing factors to the problem and get closer to identifying potential root causes.
Step 3: Set targets and goals
Clearly state what you hope to achieve through this process. Setting specific and measurable targets helps you monitor progress as you find the right solutions.
Step 4: Root cause analysis
If you don’t identify the root cause of a problem, your solutions will only address the symptoms. Treating a symptom is generally temporary, and the problem will eventually return.
Use this 5 whys template to dig deeper, identify the root cause of a problem, and reach a solution faster.Try it out
Step 5: Propose potential solutions and countermeasures
Once you understand what the root causes of your problems are, use the collected data to propose solutions or countermeasures. By offering different solutions, you and your team can easily evaluate options to reach a consensus.
Step 6: Develop an implementation plan
After you have determined which solution to use, create an implementation plan. This should include clear steps, task ownership and responsibilities, timelines and target dates, and expected outcomes.
Step 7: Monitor and follow-up
Monitor how well the implementation of your solution is working. Determine if improvements need to be made and implement adjustments as necessary.
How Lucidspark can help with the A3 problem-solving process
Lucidspark brings together hybrid teams to collaborate in real time on a single document. Try our free A3 template to get started.
Each section of the A3 template includes resources to help you complete the document. For example, the “root causes” section includes an Ishikawa diagram (or fishbone diagram) that guides you inidentifying potential root causes.
A lot of the work in the A3 template has been done for you. All you need to do is edit and modify each section to match your use case.
The A3 problem-solving method encourages organizations to use a standardized, systematic, and collaborative problem-solving approach.
As with most TPS and Lean management documents, the A3 report is not static. It is a living document that encourages teams to practice continuous improvement by frequently reviewing processes and refining methods. And its concise and easy-to-read format makes processes and progress more transparent, which helps keep the entire organization focused and aligned with the company vision.
Explore hundreds of free templates to simplify workflow and boost problem-solving skills.Go now
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What is the problem-solving process?
Learn the components of the problem-solving process and techniques for problem-solving with your team (plus access free templates).