The material in this article is based on the Book: Understanding A3 Thinking by Durward K. Sobek II and Art Smalley.

I first learnt the art of A3 thinking when I worked with Toyota. I loved the concept of being able to present a summary of information on ONE A3 piece of paper. Gone were the days of having to write pages of powerpoint presentations to explain a point, and what was more important was the process that you go through to create the A3 – speaking to and engaging lots of people, in order that as a collective we can agree and find ways forward.

A3 thinking can be used in many different environements, it’s more about a culture of thinking rather than a document creation.

Below is my take on A3 thinking…

A3 THINKING is a culture not a document…

  • The A3 is only a facilitation tool
  • The A3 process builds the knowledge of the individual via repeated Plan Do Check Act(PDCA) cycles
  • Developing an A3 is an iterative approach
  • The Obvious function of the document is fast efficient communication
    • Quickly validates your efforts and goals
    • Illustrates your thought process
    • Facilitates collaborative inputs
    • Summarizes key points only
  • The Powerful function of the document is that it guides the PDCA process

The Key Concepts:

1)      A-3 Concept — Lean Visuals (Right-Brain Information)

  • Look for a user-friendly information…Visual. Quick. Concise.
  • Only the key ideas, challenge superfluous data – they say a picture paints a 1000 words…


  • The words…              

“We finished most of the parts in one day, but sometimes we finish them in two days. One time it took 15 days when the Studer 5000 broke down, but that doesn’t happen very much, so it’s not really a problem. It might take four days, but that’s not our fault. Of course, it’s hard to say.”

2)      A-3 Concept — Alignment

  • Look for consensus
    • Went to Gemba (place of work)
    • Got everybody’s ideas
    • Summarised the situation
    • In a visual, quick, right-brain way
  • If not, then they need to iterate, again
    • Go to Gemba
    • Get ideas, learn
    • Seek input and criticism
    • Change plan to accommodate
    • Summarise

3)      The Format

The exact format is not important, the requirement is really to ensure that the Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle is being followed.



So what does a GOOD A3 look like when ensuring the PDCA cycle is included?

    • Background
      • Is there a clear theme for the report that reflects the content?
      • Is the topic relevant to the organization’s objectives?
      • Is there any other reason for working on this topic (e.g. learning purposes)


    • Current conditions and problem statement
      • Is the current condition clear and logically depicted in a visual manner?
      • How could the current condition be made more clear for the audience?
      • Is the current condition depiction framing a problem or situation to be resolved?
      • What is the actual problem in the current condition?
      • Are the facts of this situation clear, or are there just observations and opinions?
      • Is the problem quantified in some manner or is it too qualitative?


    • Goal statement
      • Is there a clear goal or target?
      • What, specifically, is to be accomplished?
      • How will this goal be measured or evaluated?
      • What will improve, by how much, and when?
    • Root cause analysis
        • Is the analysis comprehensive at a broad levels
        • Is the analysis detailed enough and did it prove deeply enough on the right issues?
        • Is there evidence of proper five-whys thinking about the true cause?
        • Has cause and effect been demonstrated or liked in some manner?
        • Are all the relevant factors considered (human, machine, material , method, environment, measurement, and so on)?


    • Countermeasures
        • Are there clear countermeasure steps indentified?
        • Do the countermeasures link to the root cause of the problems ?
        • Are the countermeasures focused on the right area?
        • Who is responsible for doing what, by when (is 5W1H clear)?
        • Will these action items, prevent recurrence for the problems?
        • Is the implementation order clear an reasonable?
        • How will the effects of the countermeasures be verified?


    • Confirmation of effect
        • How will you measure the effectiveness of the countermeasures?
        • Does the check item align with the previous goal statement?
        • Has actual performance moved in line with the goal statement?
        • If performance has not improved, the why?  What was missed?


    • Follow-up actions
        • What is necessary to prevent recurrence of the problem?
        • What remains to be accomplished?
        • What other parts of the organization need to be informed of this result?
        • How will this be standardized and communicated?

So how can you create your own A3 for your current problem?

Do you want some support in articulating your thinking anf working through the process in order to improve your output? Get in touch.


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