||What is an A3 report?||An A3 report is simply an 11 x
17 inch piece of paper outlined into several structured sections. The
exact structure depends upon the type of A3 and the needs of the
situation. A general one consists of the following pattern 1)
Background, 2) Current Situation & Problem, 3) Goal, 4) Root Cause
Analysis, 5) Action Items / Implementation Plan, 6) Check of Results,
and 7) Follow Up. The report is used to standardized and simplify
report writing, proposals, status updates, and other common methods of
communication. The content follows the logic of the Plan-Do-Check-Act
||Where does the term A3 Thinking
||The term A3 Thinking was coined
in English by our mutual friend Al Ward who passed away several years
ago in an unfortunate accident. In Japanese it is simply referred
to as "A san" where "san" is the pronunciation for the Japanese number
||Who invented A3 reports?
||There is really no single
inventor of A3 reports. Former manager of training at Toyota Isao Kato
describes it more as a combination of forces including the PDCA cycle,
the basic steps for a QC circle, the Toyota concept of making things
visible at a single glance, and the humorous anecdotes of Taiichi Ohno
refusing to read more than the first page of written reports. Instead
he'd say "let's go and see" and make people "get the facts" while he
tested their thinking.
||How is it used inside of Toyota?||There are a variety of uses that
we were exposed to in our respective time inside Toyota some time ago
(Prof. Sobek conducting dissertation research and Mr. Smalley as an
employee). Three uses that are most common are 1) structuring thinking
and telling a concise PDCA story, 2) generating discussion with
supervisors or other departments for feedback, and 3) mentoring in
terms of problem solving skills development. There are others but these
are probably the most common starting points.
||Does everyone use them inside Toyota?||A3 reports are far more common
than you might think. Virtually every employee has written one at
different parts of their career. Far fewer people inside Toyota for
example have ever drawn a value stream map or even a standardized work
chart by way of comparison. The A3 concept is one that just about every
person in the company has applied at some point in time and usually
quite often. Today they are not used as often as in the past due to the
development of the company. Still the embedded thinking process makes
up an important part of the culture and language.
||How does A3 relate to other lean
tools and concepts?
||It really compliments anything
in TPS (Lean Manufacturing). In fact we sort of cringe at the notion of
calling it a tool. The last thing we want to see is another movement of
starting QC Circles or drawing Value Stream Maps just for the sake of
the activity. A3 Thinking is about a logical and critical thinking
process that can be applied in any discipline. Think of it is a
thinking pattern to be used in problem solving, improvement or any
activity rather than a tool.
||Do all A3 reports follow the
same outline and look alike?
||Not at all. In fact you'd
struggle to ever find two that looked alike. Other than the fact they
fit on one sheet of paper and have common sections they are usually
quite different when you read the content.
||Do you really only get to use
||The basic concept is indeed to
put the main storyline on one 11 x 17 inch sized A3 paper. You'd be
surprised how much you can communicate on a single page once you put
your mind to it and eliminate the unnecessary information. When there
is a lot of technical data or an engineering drawing for example used
as an additional reference of course it can be provided as an
||Why would I go to all the
trouble to put this information on one sheet of paper?
||The flip side to the question is
really why are you making the reader wade through dozens of pages, flip
charts, PowerPoint slides, and hundreds of e-mails? Somehow we have
substituted quantity of information in place of quality of
communication in recent years.
||How can I learn more?
||The book Understanding
Thinking is a good place to start. There are different
consultants that specialize in this topic and certain organizations
offer some training. The best way is to learn by doing however and have
someone with experience critique the contents for you. As time allows
we'll see if we can put more information on the website.