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  • Tom Matthews

You're All Great Problem Solvers BUT...

At this stage of the game, we are all pretty good problem solvers. Someone comes to you with a problem – you think about it for a few minutes – and you give him a solution based on your own intuitions and experiences. Problem solved.

That works great when the problem is not very complicated. The trouble is problems come in all flavors from easy to very complicated. We are making a mistake when we apply this methodology to complicated problems.

Here is the good news. There is an incredibly effective problem solving process that comes out of lean manufacturing. It is called A3 (or more formally “Systematic Problem Solving.”

Here is the definition from Wikipedia:

A3 is a structured problem solving and continuous improvement approach, first employed at Toyota and typically used by lean manufacturing practitioners.  It provides a simple and strict approach systematically leading towards problem solving over structured approaches.

A3 leads towards problem solving over the structure, placed on an a single sheet of A3 paper.

What problems are we talking about?

  • My inventory turns are too low.

  • My revenue per employee has been creeping up over the last couple of years.

  • My company’s employee turnover is too high.

To solve these problems, really solve them, you need a better approach than the one you are using. At least that’s what Toyota decided when they came up with A3.

Here are the highlights of A3. There is no way I can give you all the tools to implement this in a blog post. I’m hoping this gets you to find someone (give me a call!) to help you get started.

First, what is a problem? A problem is a gap between what is happening today and what should be happening today.

What is A3? A3 is a problem solving approach built around PDCA (Plan Do Check Act). This concept was first introduced in Japan by Deming.

What is the A3 Process?

  • Who owns the problem?

  • What is the problem?

  • What are the current conditions?

  • What are the root causes of the problem?

  • What is the specific improvement in performance you need to close the gap?

  • What are possible countermeasures for the problem?

  • How will you choose which fix to propose?

  • What is the cost and benefit of the selected countermeasure?

  • What is the implementation plan and schedule?

  • How will you know if your plan is working?

  • What problems are likely to occur during implementation?

  • How will you ensure follow up and continuous improvement?

It is very important to make this a visual process. Use the original A3 paper (11” x 16”) or use a white board or anything else that you and your team use for visual presentations.

Here is an example of the form proposed by the Lean Enterprise Institute. If you would like a copy of this in a Word doc, email me and I will send it over to you.

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