The original A3 form was developed by Toyota
Motor Corp. to support knowledge sharing in its
factories by summarizing a structured problem-solving effort in a single page. Though the form may
often have supporting documentation, restricting
the project summary to a single page forces the user
to be very clear in his or her thinking. The A3 divides
the structured problem-solving process into four
main steps, represented by the big quadrants, and
each big step has smaller subphases, captured by the
portions below the dotted lines. The first step (
represented by the box at the upper left) is to formulate a
clear problem statement. In the Background section
(in the bottom part of the Problem Statement box),
you should provide enough information to clearly
link the problem statement to the organization’s
larger mission and objectives. The Background section gives you the opportunity to articulate the why
for your problem-solving effort.
Observing the Current Design The next step in
the A3 process is to document the current design of
the process by observing the work directly. Due to
automatic processing, most people, particularly
those who do repetitive tasks, cannot accurately
describe how they actually execute their work.
Through pattern matching, they have developed a
set of habitual actions and routine responses of
which they may not be entirely aware.
Because those who do the work often cannot fully
describe what they do, you as a manager must get as
close to the locus of the problem as you can and watch
the work being done. Taiichi Ohno, one of the founding
fathers of the Toyota production system, developed the
Gemba walk (Gemba is a Japanese word that roughly
translates to “the real place”) as a means for executives
to find out what really happens on a day-to-day basis.
The goal is to understand how the work is really done.
This could mean watching a nurse and a doctor perform a medical procedure, engineers in a design
meeting, or salespeople interacting with a customer.
Senior executives are often quite removed from
the day-to-day work of the organizations that they
lead. Consequently, observing and thoroughly understanding the current state of the work often
suggests easy opportunities for improvement. We
TRACKING PROJECTS USING AN A3 FORM
To track problem-solving projects, we have modified the A3, a famous form developed by Toyota, to better enable its use for tracking problem-solving in
settings other than manufacturing. The A3 form divides the structured problem-solving process into four main steps, represented by the big quadrants,
and each big step has smaller subphases, captured by the portions below the dotted lines. To view a completed A3 form, visit the online version of this
article at http://sloanreview.mit.edu/x/58330.
PROBLEM STATEMEN T
CURREN T DESIGN (based on seeing the work)
Date Target Actual
Root Causes What Did We Learn and What’s Next?
EXECU TION PLAN Track Results