More on A3 Problem Solving

from Tomas Björkholm

Scrum, Agile, Lean & Kanban- coach

A3 problem solving template

One of the core tenets of Lean Thinking is Kaizen – continuous process improvement. Toyota, one of the successful companies in the world, attributes much of their success to their highly disciplined problem solving approach. This approach is sometimes called A3 thinking (based on the single A3-size papers used to capture knowledge from each problem solving effort).
Here’s a real-life A3 problem solving example and template. This double-sided A 3 document contains an A3 problem solving template on one side and a real-life example on the other side.

A3 template

This example was developed by Tom Poppendieck and Henrik Kniberg and used in conjunction with Deep Lean 2009 in Stockholm and Agile 2009 in Chicago. The example is based on a real case, and we use it regularly when teaching and coaching lean problem solving techniques.


Remember – We Want to See Problems

This info is from Bryan Zeigler’s Lean is Good blog. (

Posted on May 25, 2010 by Bryan Zeigler

Ok, you’ve followed your formula for your lean transformation.  Maybe you value stream mapped, put in some standard work, developed some pull systems, improved your critical changeover times, trained all your teammates, and ran a few simulations.  Now the big moment comes and you flip the switch on the system.  You are now running to the new principles and methods.  What happens next?

Well if you designed your system to truly follow the lean ideals, you have PROBLEMS!  That’s the whole point!  Make your problems visible instead of hiding them with inventory, extra labor, long lead times, etc.  Problems are a good thing but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people flipping out when the new lean systems aren’t perfect!

I’ve even seen production leadership yell and scream at the teams that they are sick and tired of the problems.  Caution, this is not the time to get excited and tell your team to hide the problems and recreate the “icebergs” like before.  Stay calm, analyze the situation, and teach your team to solve the system deficiencies.  Utilize A3′s, five why’s, quick and easy kaizen, whatever fits.  But do not let them revert to the old ways and abandon the system.  This is a crucial time to be a leader.  Everyone of your teammates, their families, and in many cases the community depends on you to stay the course and make your journey work.

So as you progress down your path, remember how important it is to be able to see the problems and empower your teams to solve them based on the principles you have taught them.  The chaos that always entails from flipping the switch will improve and so will your business results!


This info is from Bryan Zeigler’s Lean is Good blog. (

Posted on May 25, 2010 by Bryan Zeigler

Questions About A3 Problem Solving

By Jon Miller | Post Date: February 25, 2010 12:22 PM on Gemba Panta Rei

These days if you stand next to a Toyota building and listen closely you may hear the sound of many sheets of A3 sized paper being slowly turned into problem solving documents. There are a few big, complex problems that will surely result in improvements, great new processes, and learning for Toyota.

Closer to home, the letter A and the number three can be heard in conversations almost daily in the context of problem solving. It’s a handy shorthand that seems to have stuck. What we hear from time to time in person, on the phone or by e-mail are detailed questions on how A3 problem solving. Here are a few such questions about A3 problems solving we’ve answered for people:

How important is having the right paper size, template or format?

Not very. There is now A4 problem solving at Toyota and each A3/A4 problem solving document should be hand drawn to present the information effectively. Don’t use a single template or it will constrain your thinking.

What is the expectation for taking immediate action on an A3 report to correct a problem or improve an process?

Usually there has been a temporary countermeasure in place long before the A3 in finished, which is due within 24 hours for a quality spill issue. But not all long term countermeasures are implemented automatically.

How are A3 problem solving documents used to build a file for future reference?

They have a “Lessons Learned” database for problem response, engineering and design knowledge and so forth. Having the knowledge base is just half of it, having processes and checks to make sure it is actively used is the important part.

How long does Toyota keep their A3 reports?

Until the next major model change that the problems could be of reference, so max 5 to 6 years.

Is there a time when an A3 should not be used?

Don’t use an A3 if your machine is on fire. If your customer or regulatory agency demands a different reporting format, conform to it. The A3 is the summary of problem solving activity, not the start of it. Go to the actual place, talk to people, see the situation, gather information then work through the PDCA process by writing a good problem statement. If the A3 keeps you from going to gemba, don’t use it.

Questions like these above are evidence that we are asking “What is our process for solving problems and managing through A3 thinking?” We enjoy these questions since they tell us that people are making deeper use of the A3 problem solving process. At the surface level the use of A3 allows people to ask “Have we taken root cause countermeasures?” and “What were the results of countermeasures?” When the Check is done properly, A3s help us ask “What was the process that got us those results?” @ Gemba Panta Rei