The A3 process helps manufacturing engineers engage in collaborative, in-depth problem solving. It a powerful tool that enables people to frame problems consistently, gain agreement and tap facts as the basis for decision making.
While A3 reports should follow a basic template, the exact format and wording are flexible,to meet unique requirements. The type of information contained in an A3 often depends upon the purpose of the report and the audience.
“A3 writing is about storytelling,” says Drew Locher, managing director of Change Management Associates. “The story can be about a problem that is being addressed, a project that is underway or even a business strategy to address some performance issue. Like any story, all A3s have the following: a title, an author and a timeframe in which the ‘story’ takes place.”
Locher says there should also be a section for Plan-Do-Check-Act. “The Plan section typically contains a description of the subject, such as a problem, background information with supporting data, potential root causes, and possible solutions or countermeasures,” he points out. “The Do section includes the actions to be or that were implemented, along with a schedule and status of the effort.
“The Check section includes various measures that will be monitored to verify that the desired results have been achieved,” adds Locher. “The Act section describes the means in which the changes, once proven effective, will become the new standard. As with any stor,y there are ‘footnotes’ that add clarity to any section.”
Durward Sobek, an associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Montana State University, believes the basic story line in an A3 report should address four key questions:
- Why is the problem important?
- Can we identify root causes?
- What are appropriate countermeasures?
- What is the follow-up?
Sobek says the most basic kind of report is a problem-solving A3, which addresses Plan-Do-Check-Act issues. In addition, there are proposal A3s, which focus on planning, and status A3s, which focus on confirmation of affect and follow-up steps.
“The background section of every A3 report should articulate why a problem is important to an organization,” notes Sobek, who recently wrote a book on the subject called Understanding A3 Thinking (Productivity Press). “An A3 report should also include a description of the current situation, which articulates the extent of the problem quantitatively. This section is usually graphical, with simple charts displaying information about dollar amounts and percentages.”