Looking for a Lean process to enhance your problem-solving abilities? Look no further than A3, a structured approach first used at Toyota. Named for the European paper size to which A3 reports were once confined, this methodology is robust, adaptable, and can be applied to most problems.
At KaiNexus, we recently sat down with Jess Orr, continuous improvement practitioner and founder of Yokoten Learning, to discuss the A3 problem-solving approach and its many applications. You can view the webinar here.
Presented by Jess Orr
Covering topics including:
- A3 Thinking: A Quick Refresher
- When to Use an A3 vs. Other Tools
- How to Engage Others in the Process
- Change Management 101
- The Hardest Part: Sustaining the Gains
Here are the highlights of the webinar:
A3 Thinking Consists of Seven Digestible Steps
Rooted in the rational brain, A3 is meant to achieve sustainable change. Keep in mind that countermeasures are experimental, and that short-term solutions can help buy time for deeper investigation.
The A3 process is:
- Define the problem
- Identify the current and target conditions
- Analyze the problem to identify its root cause; consider using tools like fishbone diagrams and the Five Whys
- Experiment with countermeasures—that is, concrete actions designed to help solve the problem
- Evaluate the results
- Sustain the gains, working toward a long-term solution
- Reflect on the process, acknowledging what went well and what needs to be improved
According to Orr, the first three steps encompass roughly 60% of the A3 process.
Is A3 Relevant to Your Problem?
You might not know whether the A3 approach is relevant to the obstacle your team is facing. When addressing low-complexity issues, A3 thinking would likely be overkill. It can be applied to low-complexity issues—like establishing a min/max system for supplies—but the problem solving approach is best kept simple in these situations.
Conversely, when tackling high-complexity problems, A3 thinking might be too simple. If the issue includes multiple root causes, A3 should be used with caution, and divided into individual “parent” and “child” A3s. For instance, if your parent A3 is to develop a better electronic system, your child A3 could involve the specific issues consumers are facing with their electronic systems.
While A3 thinking does not clearly align with low- or high-complexity criteria, it is an ideal fit in scenarios where:
- The solution is unknown
- The problem can be scoped appropriately, and solved in one to three months
- There is a need for long-term, sustainable countermeasures
Examples of relevant A3 problems include reducing a high rate of errors in billing invoices, decreasing temporary employee turnover, and improving customer satisfaction feedback scores. Note that all three problems include quantifiable conditions.
Use These Strategies to Confront Resistance
During the A3 process, leaders and team members may be resistant to change. If leadership doesn’t support the problem solving process, you should make a point of establishing clarity around why you are tackling this particular issue. In turn, seek to understand the motivations behind participants’ resistance—it could be fear, or perhaps a lack of understanding. As we always suggest at KaiNexus, work with people instead of just labeling them as "resistant."
Rely heavily on “nemawashi,” a Japanese word that means pre-discussion, to get all stakeholders on the same page before starting the A3 process. This may require many one-on-one conversations; it will undoubtedly require transparency. Facilitators should be open about why they are involved, and solicit others’ feedback throughout the process.
The same approach can help achieve team “buy-in,” by building a shared vision rooted in trust and accountability. Collaboration, after all, is key to sustainable problem solving—and that’s precisely where A3 comes in.
To learn more on this topic from the brilliant Jess Orr, watch the full webinar here.