The A3 method is based on the Toyota production system, also known as Lean Manufacturing. The system focuses on reducing waste and continuous improvement.
In Toyota culture, problems are solved on the factory floor, or Gemba. This Japanese word means “real place” and can be any place where work is carried out and value is generated. Visiting the factory floor is extremely important to observe, learn, understand problems and put teams on the path to solutions, since the people who work there deal with these processes on a daily basis.
With the understanding that lengthy reports undermined the amount of time leaders spent on the factory floor, they requested that all types of reports be synthesized in a single page. As the A3 format was the largest paper size that could be faxed by factories to the head office, the technique became known as the A3 method/report.
What is the A3 Method?
The A3 method is a tool used to identify problems and propose solutions that are summarized on only one side of a sheet of paper. It is a dynamic way of thinking that organizes and synthesizes data in a clear and objective manner to achieve the established goal.
Today, the size of a piece of paper is no longer a limitation. Even so, the method is still widely used because it is not just a template or form, A3 is a Lean tool that promotes simplicity and the development of systemic thinking for problem solving.
Types of A3 Method
- A3 Proposal ∕ Project – used in the development of projects with a determined beginning, middle and end or for pre-defined indicators.
- A3 Status/Monitoring– used to demonstrate an indicator, work or process over a period of time.
- A3 Problem solving – we’ll talk about this method in this article.
How does it work?
A3 is based on the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) concept. It contains a structure divided into stages of identification, definition and study of the current situation for analysis, proposals and action plans, in addition to monitoring results.
Usually the left side presents the current state (which serves to identify the problem) and the right side the future state (with the possible countermeasures). A3 reads from left to right and top to bottom.
There are several options for elaborating an A3 report, but it usually contains the following elements:
1 – Title
- Choose a title for the problem, proposal or improvement to be studied.
2 – Definition
- Describe the problem you are trying to solve or analyze, why it is relevant and how it affects the company’s goals.
3 – Current state
- Spare no effort to visualize the context. Go to the location, talk to the people involved and get all the necessary data on the problem or improvement being studied.
- Describe what is occurring, use facts and dates, or even similar past experiences.
- Point out the location or step in the process where the problem occurs.
- Use visual tools to help illustrate the current process such as Pareto charts, histograms, scatter diagrams, flowcharts etc.
4 – Desired state or target
- Define what will be done, what will be achieved and when to expect results.
- According to the Lean Manufacturing philosophy, we must think about the objectives and visualize the ideal state to avoid rework and recurrences of the problem.
- Visualization of the future state can be achieved with a flowchart, photo, sketch or outline of the desired state.
5 – Root cause analysis
- Use tools such as 5W2H (Who, What, Where, When, Why, How and How Much), cause and effect diagrams (Ishikawa), brainstorming or other available tools to understand the problem and its root cause.
6 – Proposal
- Propose an idea to solve the problem.
- With well-defined analysis and goals, define the countermeasures and the mode of action for each one.
- Demonstrate how the proposed actions will address the specific causes of problems or deviations identified in the analysis.
7 – Action plan
- Determine who is responsible for each task, with specific schedules and deadlines.
- You can use the 5W2H tool to develop the action plan and Gantt charts to illustrate the timeline, people responsible and actions.
8 – Monitoring (follow-up)
- Define the indicators or metrics to assess and validate the success (or failure) of the implementation.
- Verify the results obtained.
- Standardize what works.
- Communicate the results to everyone involved and carry out training (ensure everyone is aware of the changes).
- Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), if necessary.
- Take corrective actions in the case of deviations.
- Adjust what went wrong and restart the PDCA cycle, if necessary.
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