Helping Make A3 Work, Part 1

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 11-20-09


On December 15th, I’ll be providing a webinar on the topic of A3 problem solving. I’ve been spending a good amount of time lately helping leaders from various organizations improve their lean thinking by utilizing A3 problem solving. In the following few blog posts, I’ll answer some of the common questions people have about A3 and it’s use in organizations.

Q1. Problem solving has been around for quite some time. Why do we still have trouble with it?

Fundamentally, it is not because the tools are bad, it is because our behaviors and thought process in using them are bad. Many of these tools, for example, will help you get to root cause, but if you don’t value taking the time to truly get to root cause, then the tool won’t do you any good.

Most of us learn to solve problems very early. It’s one of the first skills we learn, but we learn it through trial and error. It becomes tacit knowledge. And often the problem with tacit knowledge is that we can hold it up and examine it. It becomes difficult to improve. And we often don’t even realize we are applying that knowledge so we don’t recognize the need to improve it. Admitting you need to re-learn problem solving is like admitting you have to re-learn brushing your teeth; it’s that fundamental. For this reason, our knowledge of problem solving thinking that underlies all of these methods is generally less mature than the tools themselves.

Q2. Where did the name “A3” come from to describe this method?

A: A3 is the international standard name for a paper size approximately the same as 11″x17″ paper. The name came from Toyota describing the process of getting report-writing down to 1 page. To Toyota, this was just a format for structuring a report so that it could be clearly and consistently communicated on 1 page of paper, reducing the waste of report writing and report reading. Because Toyota was always applying lean thinking, and A3 reports made that thinking visible, people began to see it as a way to help get others thinking lean. As it was adopted outside of Toyota beyond report writing but a combination of the 1 page report and the thinking process of problem solving, the A3 name stuck as the name of a method.

If you’re interested, join us December 15th for more on A3 thinking and improve your problem solving. Register here.