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Introduction to the A3                                                               Page 3

Before you jump to reactive solutions, it is essential to deeply understand the current reality. This is not a sit-down exercise, it is an activity. Go observe what is actually happening. You want the as-is, not the supposed-to-be or the my-belief-is version of reality. Don’t rely on a manager or supervisor, who rarely is present when the actual work is done, to solve the problem. Get the people doing the work and impacted by the problem involved in the process and empower them to the solve the problem. Before you start throwing Band-Aids at the problem, you should first develop a clear target condition—the goal of where you want to be. When I have worked with teams on problem solving one of the first questions I ask is, what do you want to accomplish? Often, they will start to answer and then stop because they realize they don’t have a quick answer to that question. Take some time to truly understand what you want to accomplish, this can make a big difference in who you approach the problem. You don’t want to just uncover solutions to problems, you want to design work to create a new and better reality. Bad systems beat good people, and your job is to change the system.

There is great value in developing a good problem-solving system and in communicating those problems and solutions to everyone. In our industry, we have a single company which is comprised of several projects, in different locations which are led by different teams. However; the processes and the challenges faced by these teams are often similar. If a team encounters a problem and finds a solution that is wonderful, how much more wonderful is it if all the teams could have access to the process they used, their thoughts about the problem and their solution.? One of the most common statements in our industry is “Why re-invent the wheel?” yet I observe project teams “Re-inventing the wheel.” everyday simply because we don’t share our ideas, problems, processes and especially our problem-solving process.  Once common A3 thinking is established, it can serve as a powerful business tool that can be applied across all business processes and functions.

The Six Sections of the E Light A3 Tool

The six sections of A3 report provide the  problem solving road map for a standardized problem-solving process to promote common thinking:
Problem Statement
Current Condition
Root Cause
Target Condition
Follow Up

Building Blocks for Developing A3 Thinking

There is no single “right” format, but in general, an A3 report flows from a problem statement, to current reality analysis, description of the target condition, and finally the plan and measurements to evaluate progress. The format itself isn’t important—it won’t magically turn you into a lean thinker any more than picking up multi-meter will turn you into an electrician. It is going through the work of developing an A3 report for your situation that starts you on the path to becoming a lean thinker. It is a process and it is also a skill. Like any other skill, it doesn’t develop overnight, and some people will be more naturally adept at it than others. But also, like other skills, anyone, with practice can develop the skill.
  It is essential to begin with the problem statement, because it is a critical element on the path to lean thinking. There are few things more fundamental—and frequently done poorly—than the problem statement. How you structure the problem statement determines your focus. Make sure your problem statement is actually about the current observable condition, not about a perceived solution, cause or what you want. Another mistake is something is stated as a problem, but it is just an observation. Such as “There is a lot of paperwork in the process.” This is mostly likely a factual statement, but it is not a problem as it is stated here. If this were a problem, you need to define what the problem is and not rely on everyone knowing your assumptions. Perhaps something like this “We are spending a large amount of dollars on payroll to process the paperwork for this process and we are not receiving a corresponding value to the customer for that money spent. “That statement is understood, by everyone that reads it, why this is a problem.