What Is A3 Methodology?

Are you looking to simplify your problem-solving processes? Would you like to bypass complicated methods and get to the heart of maintenance issues in the most direct way? Consider the A3 process.

The A3 process is a lean problem-solving methodology that lays out everything you need to identify, solve, and review an issue. All on one single piece of A3 paper.

Good to know: A3 refers to the ISO paper size roughly equivalent to a US 11-inch by 17-inch tabloid- or ledger-sized page.

A3 Methodology in Lean

Using only a sheet of paper, you can replace complex PowerPoint presentations and onerous reports with an old-school method accessible to all employees, from the shop floor to the boardroom.

The “single sheet” approach of A3 methodology allows teams to:

  • Capture the background information that has led to a problem
  • Note the current state of play
  • Write down the end goal
  • Perform a root cause analysis
  • Identify actions to implement
  • Report the results of the problem-solving process

After completing the A3 activity, make your problem-solving methodology readily available to all levels of the organization. This visibility allows for the easy and clear communication of ideas.

A3 Thinking: A Concise Communication Tool

Lengthy, in-depth reports and analysis tools may have a place in troubleshooting. However, they aren’t always the way to go. They can often be unnecessarily long-winded, losing the interest of your team. In contrast, an A3 report uses limited space to cover all the information, so anyone providing input must get to the point and be brief.

The “single-page thinking” process of A3 forces teams to be concise and to think about their suggestions and comments before cementing them on paper.

You can’t oversupply details because you will run out of paper. And that’s the point!

Where Did A3 Problem Solving Originate?

Lean thinking tools are often simple and low-tech. Solving problems with information that can fit on a single piece of paper is about as low-tech as it gets.

Like many lean concepts, the A3 methodology has its roots in the Toyota Production System. The idea came to the fore in the 1960s. Practitioners of Lean Six Sigma later adopted this and other approaches to continuous improvement.

Developed to help guide manufacturers through the problem-solving process, Toyota initially used the strict framework for solving problems, reporting on a project’s status, and proposing policy changes in the company. However, A3’s potential as a problem-solving tool covers a much broader range of use cases.

How to Create a Lean A3 Plan

Creating an A3 report requires teams to create an improvement project plan that fits on a single sheet of A3 paper.

By limiting the report to just one page, your team needs to be concise and thoughtful about including only the most relevant information needed to solve manufacturing and maintenance problems.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to create an A3 report.

1. Explain the Background

Using a single sheet of A3 or ledger-sized paper, divide the page into seven sections. (You can do this on your computer by selecting the paper size.) In your first empty section, list what problem you want to solve and why?

2  State the Current Situation

The current condition is typically a sentence or two on what you’d like to improve. For example, the current state might summarize information from a gemba walk, reports from maintenance teams, operational shifts, key performance indicators (KPIs), or broad industry changes that upper management has identified.

3. Agree on Goals or Targets

Decide what the ideal future state will be. This section should include specific SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

“Determining and developing great goals is tricky. You need to understand the current baseline from which you project a goal into the future. You need to problem-solve obstacles and bottlenecks constraining your ability to achieve a goal. You need to expand the realm of possible paths to achieving the goal. Then you need to pick the optimal strategic path that will enable you to achieve the goal.”


4. Identify the Root Cause of the Problem

To complete this step, encourage everyone in your team to be a problem solver. What is the real underlying cause of the current situation? Were standard operating procedures followed? Is there a quality issue in the supply chain? Perform a thorough root cause analysis.

5. Note the Countermeasures

Address the root cause with countermeasures that can fix the situation. They should be specific, clear, and direct. Countermeasures should clear the path, so workarounds and delays don’t get in the way.

6. Plan How to Implement the Changes

This section of your A3 report is your implementation plan. Explain who will do what and by when. Your action plan uses the above countermeasures to systematically eliminate the root causes that you’ve identified. For each item, note who should be involved, what should happen, and the due date for follow-up and analysis.

7. Complete the Process with Scheduled Follow-up

A continuous improvement program is only effective with a cyclical follow-up system. This allows your team to revisit the problem to check if the expected results actually happened. Just like with a kanban system, a feedback loop helps to improve the process and make future A3 reports run more smoothly.

Keeping Track of Your A3 Actions

Analyzing and measuring the process to identify what could be improved next time is a crucial part of the PDCA cycle: Plan-Do-Check-Act. In other words, your A3 project doesn’t end once you’ve taken action. Always close the loop by ensuring your teams consistently apply continuous improvement across your company.

Using project management tools like an A3 template creates teamwork and collaboration. A3 also provides a birds-eye view of process improvement initiatives across the organization. So if you’ve carried out the A3 on paper, be sure to drop those actions into a digital platform.

A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) provides an easy management system for A3 checklists and follow-ups. Plus, it provides a single online source of truth for compliance documentation, policies, SOPs, work orders, and inspections.

Using a CMMS like MaintainX to handle A3 actions allows you to quickly check in real time on the progress of your change management endeavors and ensures all levels of the organization are always on the same page.

author photo
Caroline Eisner

Caroline Eisner is a writer and editor with experience across the profit and nonprofit sectors, government, education, and financial organizations. She has held leadership positions in K16 institutions and has led large-scale digital projects, interactive websites, and a business writing consultancy.

See MaintainX in action

Take a live, one-on-one tour with a product expert to see how MaintainX can help you go paper-free and reduce costly unplanned downtime.
Book a Tour

Get more done with MaintainX

Screenshot of MaintainX application showing asset onlineScreenshot of MaintainX application in mobile app showing assets