Welcome to the A3 Thinking Blog

Welcome to the A3 Thinking Blog. From time to time the authors of A3 Thinking will post articles or updates pertaining to the book A3 Thinking. Drop by and visit when you have free time or send the authors a question. As time allows they’ll take turns answering whatever is submitted.

Reader Question on Process Implementation to Prof. Sobek

Hi Mr Sobek,

My name is Michael from Indonesia.

I found your article regarding A3 process in http://www.montana.edu/dsobek/a3/. As it is stated, A3 is a really powerful tools to find the root cause of a problem. Moreover, from another article I found from internet, A3 is also a powerful tools to craft a step-by-step problem solving way of thinking for employees.

What I would like to know more is about its implementation. Based on my internship experience, implementing A3 in a company is not an easy thing to do. In one company that I have been doing intern, A3 is seen as a “burden” to its employee. The company use A3 do “documented” the problems that has been solved and every year, they have a competition about which A3 is the best. The employee feel that they can solve the problem right away, based on their experience and instinct. For me, it’s kinda make sense since they have been in the factory like every day and they would have natural instinct to solve problems without using complicated A3.

So, if you were in that condition, what would you do to implement A3 making culture in the company?

Thank you.




Hello, Michael from Indonesia,

You have identified a common problem with A3’s.  Whenever the A3 report is seen as a documentation tool rather than a collaboration tool, the tendency is to write it after-the-fact and therefore it becomes an extra burden on people.  To realize the power of A3 reports, they should be used through the course of the problem-solving process.  You build an A3 a section at a time, and use it to communicate with key stakeholders about the nature of the problem, root causes, potential solutions, implementation plans, etc. in order to gain organizational alignment on the best path forward for the organization.  You should do this as you go, not just at the end, so that you bring the other people along with you and there’s no need for a sell job at the end because everyone has followed the process and had chance for input along the way.

For A3’s to be used in the fashion requires a couple of things to be in place:

  • If the problem can be fairly easily solved by one person working on his or her own, don’t bother with an A3 unless you want to do it for practice.
  • If the problem requires agreement or buy-in from multiple people, especially if they are from different work units, and the solution is non-obvious, then that problem is a good candidate for an A3.
  • Leadership should demand to see A3’s in-progress and check to see that they are being used to communicate across organizational lines.  They are sending the wrong message if they only want to see “completed” A3’s.
  • Setting up a mentoring system so that every person working on an A3 has a mentor reviewing their A3 and, more importantly, their problem-solving process can be a huge benefit.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you.  As an intern, you are probably fairly limited in what you can do to produce organizational change.  But you can practice good A3 thinking in your work to increase effectiveness in really getting problems addressed at the root cause level.

BTW, another website that might be useful to you is www.a3thinking.com. Good luck!


Durward K. Sobek II, Ph.D.

Professor and Program Coordinator of Industrial & Management Systems Engineering

Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering

Montana State University

Bozeman, MT  59717-3800

Webinar on A3 Thinking

Recently I was asked to give a presentation via Webinar on the topic of A3 Thinking by OPS Group, Inc. For the audience I agreed to post my presentation slides on-line in pdf format. Here is a link to that file for interested parties.


A3 Mentoring Advice

In general I like to think that there are three invisible pillars for A3 reports. One pillar is good old fashioned problem solving. A second pillar is communication and collaboration. A third pillar however is mentoring and advising people on A3 reports. So in addition to the recent points of communication advice I drafted for A3’s here are some follow up points I discussed with a client about the topic of mentoring. It is difficult enough to author a good A3 report but it is also challenging and rewarding to help people improve the quality of their reports. Here is my subjective list of things to look out for and keep in mind. I am sure there are other points as well these are just my initial thought starters for consideration. Continue reading A3 Mentoring Advice

A3 Communication Advice

A client asked me to give some pointers pertaining to A3 presentations and communication points. Here is a list of ten things that I mentioned and a few words of advice pertaining to each point. The following list is not exhaustive by any means and is just intended as some points of practical advice for thought starters. Continue reading A3 Communication Advice

When to write an A3 report?

A reader named Vimal from a processing company writes in this week with the following question:

Organizations encounter a number of problems of extremely different variety, importance and scale on a daily basis. However, addressing each of these problems using an A3 approach can be very challenging. How do we determine whether or not a problem demands an A3 approach to solving it?

This is a good question that we receive from time to time from readers and practitioners of A3 reports especially the problem solving variety. Here are two respective points of view from Prof. Durward Sobek and Art Smalley. Continue reading When to write an A3 report?

Common Mistakes in A3 Report Writing

Assembly Magazine did an article similar to this topic some type a while ago. At a recent client off site meeting I was asked to briefly discuss common mistakes I see made in A3 reports. The list is simply populated by observation and no doubt might change over time. It also varies of course widely case by case, company by company, etc. Here are a dozen items that I mentioned during the discussion. Continue reading Common Mistakes in A3 Report Writing

A3 Thinking Poster

A client recently asked if I had a poster for A3 thinking that they could post on meeting room walls and other locations for the purposes of general communication. I did not have one but agreed to sketch one out for discussion purposes. After that they would adjust it and make their own 24″ by 36″ posters. Here is the concept that I came up with. The poster has three levels and I will highlight each one below with some brief explanation. Continue reading A3 Thinking Poster

A3 Mistakes to Avoid

Austin Weber of Assembly Magazine does a nice job summarizing some of the common mistakes to avoid in creating A3 reports. Visit this link below to read his write up.

Click here for the link to article

Introducing The Lean Edge

Professor Sobek and I had an invitation recently to participate in a new website called The Lean Edge with some fellow lean authors. The concept is that various authors will be asked a question by a guest participant. Each author will answer the question with a few paragraphs of response. The idea is not to give the same answer but to give some different replies from different points of view. For now the participating authors in addition to ourselves are:

  • Michael Balle
  • Orry Fiume
  • Dan Jones
  • Jeff Liker
  • Mike Rother

The initial question was asked by Professor Rob Austin author of Artful Making and other books as well.

As exciting as the lean ideas are, there’s a concern a person might have that starts with the name: Lean.  As in “lean and mean” or as in “cut your staff by half to make your operations leaner.” How do you keep lean initiatives from being bushwhacked by the cost cutting crowd, especially in today’s down economy? This is not an abstract worry. I’ve seen some so-called “lean” initiatives that looked suspiciously like cost cutting to get an organization ready for sale or spin off. How do you keep a program called “lean” from being (or perhaps becoming, step by step, as managers feel pressure) an apparently principled smoke screen to mask ruthless cost cutting? Partly this seems like an issue of priorities: Which take precedence, lasting improvements, or short term cost cutting? Managers might feel pressure to do both. And even when lean isn’t a smoke screen, people might suspect that it is, which amounts to an implementation problem. How do you get people who you need to cooperate in a lean initiative to put aside their suspicions and fears and embrace the overall philosophy?

Please visit the site to see some sample answers and submit reader comments. The purpose is thoughtful discussion from different points of view!

The Lean Edge