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Breaking It Down
Dissecting the problem-solving A3 report
by Alberto Ayulo
A3 thinking is based on the plan-do-check-act cycle. This powerful way of thinking is transcribed on a piece of paper (the A3 report) a team of employees can use to produce a desired outcome for a proposed process. The A3 report is displayed on ledger-sized paper (11 x 17 inches) and is broken into different sections, each clearly labeled and arranged in a logical flow.
The A3 report can be used for problem solving, but there also are two other ways of using it: a proposal A3 report and a storyboard A3 report. Each report has a slightly different focus, and the experience level of those facilitating the initiative may vary, but the foundation behind each A3 will not change.
Blocks to success
Similar to the define, measure, analyze, improve and control method, the problem-solving A3 has a specified path the user must follow from beginning to end. Online Figure 1 shows a completed problem-solving A3 in its entirety using the major phase inspection process for a U-2 aircraft as an example. The process is comprised of eight blocks, the first of which is illustrated in Figure 1. Remember there are an infinite number of tools you can use throughout this process to populate each block:
1. Clarify and validate the problem. The team typically starts with a perceived problem and uses data (quantitative, if possible) to validate whether it is, in fact, a problem. The completed first block is populated with a problem statement and data to validate it (Figure 1).
2. Break down the problem and identify performance gaps. Next, the team begins to dissect the problem statement from Block 1 and determines the area of focus. This is done using targeted data to find specific focus areas that break down the larger problem into bite-sized pieces. The completed second block is populated with data determining a focus area.
3. Set an improvement target. The team determines what success will look like. The improvement target, or goal, must be relative to the problem statement in Block 1. The completed third block is populated with an improvement target.
4. Determine root causes. Using the focus areas from Block 2, the team determines the root causes. The completed fourth block is populated using root cause analysis tools and highlights the determined root cause.
5. Develop countermeasures. The team takes the root cause from Block 4 and assigns specific countermeasures. The countermeasures should only specifically address the root cause and, in theory, should solve the problem identified in Block 1. The completed fifth block is populated with any tool that will outline the countermeasures.
6. See countermeasures through. The team tracks the countermeasures from Block 5 and ensures each one is accomplished. The completed sixth block is populated with the tool used in Block 5 to outline the countermeasures and updated as each is accomplished.
7. Confirm results and process. Depending on the course of action, the team begins to track the results as countermeasures are accomplished. After all are completed, the team will use the data from Block 1 to determine if the countermeasures from Block 5 are improving the process. The completed seventh block is populated with continued data from Block 1.
8. Standardize successful processes. The team will standardize process only after confirming successful results validated in Block 7. The completed eighth block is populated with tasks that were implemented to standardize process.
As with any other framework, repeated use of the A3 report is the fastest formula to success, as each experience brings a different outlook and a better understanding.
Alberto Ayulo is the regional continuous improvement manager for the West Region of Johnson Controls in Tempe, AZ. He has a master’s degree in HR management from Webster University in St. Louis. Ayulo is an ASQ-certified lean Six Sigma Black Belt and Project Management Institute-certified project management professional.