G U E S T A R T I C L E
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An A3 report is a standard graphic tool for problem solving that applies the basic logic of the PDCA cycle.
Its principles and methodology are applicable to any type of organisation and it encourages the analysis of root causes, describing processes and presenting results and action plans in a format that promotes discussion and learning.
The A3 methodology was pioneered at Toyota. It is characterised in that problems are described and analysed, and corrective actions and the desired final situation set out on a single sheet of A3 paper. In addition, this methodology is very useful to deal with problems whose solution requires the involvement of multidisciplinary groups; it is so easy that any of the group members can prepare an A3 report and so intuitive that the report will be understood by all.
It is also used to standardise and simplify the drafting of reports, proposals, status updates, etc.
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Characteristics of A3 reports
The main characteristic of an A3 report is that it is both an information panel and a work tool but not a form susceptible of being filled in so as to meet a formal requirement. Therefore:
- It always follows the four PDCA steps – Plan, Do, Check and Act, i.e. understanding the current situation, devising an action plan in order to arrive at a future situation, verifying the efficient of the plan (which will be modified if necessary), and standardising and sharing the results.
- It may adopt different formats but it will always retain the PDCA structure.
- The basis will be the same but the contents will be adapted to every specific problem to be tackled.
- The more visual, the better (with photos, etc.).
- All information is concentrated in just one page. If the problem is very complex, it will be divided into several A3 reports.
- The flow of information that is collected will match the actual flow that is observed in the occurrence and solution of the problems.
- The participation of proactive people who have been trained and are involved in the subject and have decision-making power is strongly recommended.
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Types of A3 reports
There are four categories of A3 reports according to their particular case:
- A3 REPORTS FOR PROBLEM SOLVING:
They are used to analyse those situations where a standard or an ideal situation is impossible to maintain. They are managed according to the practical problem solving method.
- A3 PROPOSAL REPORTS:
They are used to suggest and develop ideas for improving certain states or situations. They are commonly used in specific areas or departments and are geared towards the value chains and strategic plans of companies.
- A3 SITUATION REPORTS:
They are used to show the progress made in long-term projects (weekly, monthly and quarterly follow-up), being the project’s current situation and its direction and goal at every point in time analysed. They are very often employed in cases of changes of product/model for ensuring the milestones and the final completion dates are met.
- A3 STRATEGIC REPORTS:
They are very similar to A3 situation reports but are particularly aimed at drawing up the long-term business plans of companies. They are often used by the senior management (Steering Committee).
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Structure and contents of A3 reports
This article will be devoted hereinafter to A3 proposal and problem-solving reports.
4.1.- Levels of detail in A3 reports
A3 reports have different degrees of detail according to the analysis required in each case. There are A3 reports of:
- In this case, problems do not call for excessively formal A3 reports because they are easy to detect and the main causes are usually clear. The measures to be taken require minimum resources and a single member of the team can handle the problem on his own.
- It is essential to strictly follow the PDCA phases.
- 60 to 70 percent of problems usually fall into this first level.
- From this level there should be rules to be able to compare how things must be done to how things are done and to identify what has been done incorrectly.
- This level requires a greater, deeper degree of analysis, with work teams comprising more than one person. The study should be focused directly on the losses that are being incurred.
- It is the case of recurrent problems whose cause is unknown a priori and whose resolution requires the participation of qualified people who have been trained in the subject. In addition, they often directly affect company KPIs.
- 15 to 20 percent of problems usually belong to this second level.
- This level includes all those problems whose consequences affect a company’s internal and external customers as regards quality, safety, etc. and, hence, may have an effect on its own indicators.
- The participation of a senior manager is required at this level as it is unacceptable that a non-conforming product or service arrives to a customer – which must be immediately solved. Therefore, this person is responsible for gathering all the information and ensuring the problem does not happen again.
- Examples: external customer complaints, lost orders, failures preventing deliveries from being made, etc.
- Normally, 5 to 10 percent of problems are classed in this third level.
- This level is related to a proactive resolution of problems, i.e. detecting sources of waste and striving to eliminate them. Thus, the quality of the provided service or product will increase.
- The following questions are usually made: what should happen vs. what is happening? Is this level of performance acceptable? Can the company’s level of performance be raised? Etc.
- Many level-2 or 3 problems will thereby be prevented and decisions made before they occur.
- The percentage of problems that are tackled from this point of view is minimal – less than 5% – because companies think it is crazy to spend time dealing with “potential problems”.
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Procedure for making A3 reports
5.1.- General recommendations before starting
Before starting an A3 report the following aspects should be taken into account:
- A3 reports are work documents not sheets to be remotely filled in and submitted.
- An A3 report is a means and not an end, i.e. analysing the facts is the most important thing, not completing the form.
- A3 reports should focus on the data and be as objective as possible; they must not be used as a means to promote particular interests.
- Long accounts, long paragraphs and wordiness are not good; A3 reports should be to-the-point and contain as much graphic information as possible.
- Bullets, symbols, etc. without information are useless; they should be avoided.
- Attention must be paid to the use of graphs; they should be simple and visual and contain quantitative information.
- A3 reports are filled in by hand and using a pencil since it might be necessary to correct some of the written-down information.
- They must be drafted among the entire team; all members should take part in filling them in (this will make everybody feel involved).
- They must be steered such that sessions are short and lively and not very numerous so as to not waste time unnecessarily and to solve problems quickly. If the issue is too large to do it this way, it should be broken down into smaller problems.
Data about the following must be provided:
- The reason and purpose for choosing the problem at hand.
- The strategic, operational, historic and organisational context in which the problem has been detected.
- The aspect to be improved, generally without going into too much detail.
5.3.- Current situation
The current situation is described in detail in this section: circumstances, conditions, facts, etc. Some orientation questions, which will help the group to document this point, are listed below:
- What the problem is or what works poorly.
- Where the problem is and what is its impact, quantifying it as much as possible.
- What has been seen on-site in the environment or context where the problem occurred.
- What facts, conditions or results point to the existence of a problem.
- What is happening and what should be happening.
- Consider whether the problem can be broken down into other, smaller problems more susceptible of being individually analysed.
- Here it is very important to show the facts and processes under analysis in a very visual manner by using graphs, drawings, etc. Therefore, it is advisable that the groups draw a VSM of the current situation since this tool is a systematic procedure to tackle all the aspects that are required therefore.
- Once the current situation has been described and the existing deviation delimited, the targets to be reached in each specific case must be set out: what will improve, how much, in how much time, and the main impacts of the improvement.
5.4.- Root cause analysis
In the root cause analysis phase, the work group must identify which are the key aspects that might cause the deviations described in the previous section, i.e. those conditions or facts which prevent reaching the targets which were proposed back in the day.
In order to perform this task of finding the root causes of a certain problem, Lean tools such as the 5 Whys (asking why 5 consecutive times about the problem and its probable causes), the Ishikawa diagram, etc. can be applied.
5.5.- Future situation
Once the problem and its causes have been analysed, the group must come up with and put forward options, actions and strategies for improving the current situation and bringing it closer to an ideal situation with a higher, satisfactory level of performance.
It is advisable to propose a list of potential solutions and assess their advantages and drawbacks, while at the same time estimating their effectiveness and feasibility and setting priorities regarding their application. The group should suggest, insofar as possible, solutions for each of the detected problems.
In order to collect all this information in a condensed and structured manner, it is advisable to make a VSM of the future-state to be reached.
The actions suggested in the preceding phases will be systematically included in a PDCA form, where the deadlines and persons in charge will be indicated.
5.7.- Action tracking
The PDCA must be supplemented with a tool for monitoring and measuring the results achieved over time after the actions are put into practice – which results are having an effect, what effect, how much time is left to reach the target, etc. – in order to be able to immediately make decisions and react to facts, thus promoting those actions which have good results and discarding those which are not resulting in any improvement.
Bar charts, trend lines, graphical representations or Lean tools, such as a Tracking Chart, may be used to perform this tracking.
The A3 report is finished when all set targets are achieved or all proposals tried and tested.
The final step after completing an A3 report is to document the conclusions which have been drawn during the analysis and to spread to other areas those solutions which have proved to be useful for dealing with the specific problem.
Based on what we’ve learned, we describe what modifications to the plan will be made for the next cycle and then repeat as needed.
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-A3 Reports are a means, not an end; they are working docs, not only papers to be filled.
-The people participating in them are trained, involved, proactive and with decision capacities; all the team must be involved.
-Better few, short and agile sessions: pursue the quick solution to the problem.
-Complex problems are divided in several A3.
-They are written on hand and with pencil: no fear to corrections.
-It is an A3 format, so the info must be clear and precise: prevent ambiguities and reduce the effort for others to understand it.
-They require short and clear phrases.
-They are focused on data; objective approach.
-The use of graphics is recommended: simple, visual and with quantitative info.
About the author:
Sergio Barna Ind ENG, MBA, TQM, HS, LSSBB, CI, OpEx
Copyright information: The article has been published with permission from the author. Title picture is copyright of ASQ Ottawa Valley Section and not associated with the original writing.
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