Lean employs many problem-solving tools to address issues with or brainstorm improvements for work processes. A3 reports are a written tool that can help with brainstorming, solution efforts, and the decision-making process. These reports apply a scientific way of thinking and can be used to help analyze and fix the root cause of issues.
The structured problem-solving strategy was first used by Toyota and is now commonly used in Lean organizations. The name A3 report comes from an international paper size (approximately 11 x 17 inches). The size of the paper, though, isn't the most important part of a report. The reason one of these reports matters is the single sheet of paper helps keep the report concise and to-the-point. It also allows for the use of helpful visuals and a clear plan of suggested actions. A3 reports are often effective because it simplifies communication and presents important information in a single page.
An A3 report typically contains information about the current state of a process and typically contains the following information laid out in sections:
- Background: A brief description of the issue including relevant contextual information and why the problem is important to the organization.
- Current Situation: A succinct summary of the current state and usually includes visual depiction.
- Analysis: A root analysis tool, like the fishbone diagram, is visually represented as a way to analyze why the problem occurred.
- Goal: The desired outcome is identified in describing what the situation would need to avoid the problem in the future.
- Recommendations: A brief list of possible countermeasures the team brainstormed, with the best option highlighted.
- Implementation plan: A prescription of how to implement the proposed solution including tasks, responsibilities, and the duration of implementation.
- Follow up: A map representing how the follow-up process to ensure changes are maintained.
These reports often follow the steps of the PDCA cycle. Participants in a problem-solving process PLAN (assess current state and propose solutions), DO (implement solutions), CHECK (follow up on solutions), and ACT (standardize solutions that are effective). The A3 report can help communicate this information quickly and in an easy-to-digest fashion.