A3 Problem-Solving: Thinking & Templates

As a factory manager, you’re already familiar with problem-solving, but how familiar are you with the A3 problem-solving method?

Today, we tell you everything about the A3 problem-solving method and why it can be precisely what you need to get your factory running as smoothly as ever.

Download your A3 problem-solving template

What is A3?

We already stated that the A3 method is a problem-solving method, so let us dig deeper.

A3 refers to the size of the paper you’d normally use to document this problem-solving process.

A3 paper is bigger than your regular A4, measuring roughly 30 by 42 cm in case you were wondering —or if you’re a fan of the imperial system, 11 by 17 inches—

The reason behind using this specific paper size is that it gives you enough space to present all problem-related information clearly and concisely.

This approach is highly structured, following a step-by-step process to help you develop and implement solutions.

What is A3 thinking?

Before the A3 method, we have A3 thinking. This is the heart of this whole problem-solving process.

A3 thinking deals with issues in a structured and logical way, always relying on the principles of continuous improvement. This means you should look at problems from different angles, gathering as much data as possible. Only then you’ll be able to make a truly informed decision.

The key operating principle behind A3 thinking is that the best way to solve a problem is by having an in-depth understanding of the problem and its causes. This is the only way forward to plan, develop, and implement a permanent solution.

How does the A3 problem-solving method work?

Because this is a structured approach to problem-solving, there are a few key steps to follow to implement it right. Let’s take a look:

A3 Problem Solving

STEP 1 ― Identify the problem

As with many other problem-solving methods —if not all— the first thing to do is identify the problem that needs solving. 

You can use root cause analysis to make sure you’re tackling the root of the issue and not just fixing the problem at a superficial level.

STEP 2 ― Gather information

Without proper data, your chances of fixing the problem for good are quite slim.

By getting all the information you can through all the sources available —collecting data, conducting surveys, speaking to relevant people involved with the problem— you make sure you have a complete picture of the problem and its magnitude.

This will help you get a comprehensive understanding of the problem, which is key when developing a solution to fix it permanently.

STEP 3 ― Develop a plan

After gathering all the information, you develop a plan to solve the problem.

In this stage, you can hold a brainstorming session, evaluate different options, and select the best approach.

STEP 4 ― Implement the plan

Time to put your plan into action!

A good way to secure success in your problem-solving efforts is to test your solutions before you implement them, adjust anything according to the situation, and monitor your results.

STEP 5 ― Evaluate your results

When you implement your solution, you need to evaluate your results to make sure your plan is working.

The best way to do this is by collecting additional data or analysing production metrics. 

At this stage, you might identify areas for improvement — don’t ignore them, address them.

Advantages of the A3 problem-solving method

Some of the benefits of the A3 method are more obvious than others. Let’s take a look!

Better collaboration — To get the most out of the A3 method, you need to look at your problem from different angles. The best way to do this is by getting several relevant points of view. This improves collaboration and communication across the whole organisation. 

Increased efficiency — Because this approach has a set number of steps, it becomes a predictable process. This means your teams will work more efficiently to solve the issue, as they’ll know what their next steps are. This also means you’ll successfully avoid wasting time or resources on solutions that won’t work.

Improved decision-making — By gathering data and focusing on factual information rather than opinions or gut feelings, you —and your team— will get better at decision-making. This means you’ll leave the guesswork out of your problem-solving process, ensuring your solutions are based on actual, updated data. 

Continuous improvement — This method is a key part of any continuous improvement process. By identifying and solving problems, you can keep improving your operations, products, and services.

How to use an A3 template successfully

To harness the full potential of this method, you can use an A3 template.

A template helps you present information clearly and concisely, making the process way more efficient.

An A3 template typically includes the following sections:

  • Background —  Here you write a short overview of the problem. It should include information about when the problem first emerged, how it’s impacting your operations, and what stakeholders are affected
  • Current State In this section, you describe the current state of the problem. This might involve outlining the symptoms, identifying the root cause, and highlighting any contributing factors
  • Goal Set — Time to outline your proposed solution to the problem! This might involve identifying specific actions to take, assigning responsibility for those actions, and setting a timeline for completion
  • Analysis Use this section to highlight what problem-solving method you’re using (the 5 Whys, 8D, A3…) to identify the underlying causes of the problem. This section might also include information about potential solutions
  • Suggestions — This is the time and the place to highlight any suggestions for improvement and problem-solving
  • Schedule of Touchpoints — Here, you explain which actions are going to happen when, who’s responsible for them, and an estimated completion date.

By using an A3 template, you can ensure a standardised process for problem-solving. This helps everybody work more efficiently.

mlean® and the A3 problem-solving method

As far as problem-solving methods go, the A3 is quite effective and straightforward.

But we all know paper is hard to keep track of, and big chunks of A3 that are fundamental for your factory’s operations should be stored away safely for future reference.

Our mlean® Production System (mPS) is the best way to ensure your problem-solving processes are digitally stored, accessible, and readily available when you need them.

Our software creates a knowledge database using the problems you’ve already solved. This makes your operations much more quick and efficient, increasing productivity, boosting continuous improvement processes, and accelerating your growth.

Book a free demo and see for yourself!

Download your A3 problem-solving template

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