Chapter 2 - A3 Thinking

© Durward K. Sobek and Art Smalley, All Rights Reserved

The A3 Report is a powerful tool.  It provides a concrete structure to implement PDCA Management.  It helps draw the report author(s) to a deeper understanding of the problem or opportunity and how to address it.  It facilitates cohesion and alignment within the organization as to the best course of action.  But as with any tool, one must know how to use it.  As mentioned in Chapter 1, the tool itself is less important than the thinking promoted by using it.  Strict adherence to the guidelines for A3 Report writing presented in later chapters without the broader picture in mind would miss the point and could result in a serious case of form over substance. 

To avoid this situation, we describe in this chapter the kind of thinking that an A3 Report system promotes.  We believe, and trust you’ll agree, that the kind of thinking we’re talking about is actually quite rare in most organizations, and yet creates a tremendously capable workforce.  The resulting workforce capability translates into highly effective and continuously improving work systems and outstanding organizational performance.  A3 thinking, we believe, is the key to avoiding form over substance when using A3 Reports. 

In addition, A3 Reports cannot be drafted in isolation, by someone working exclusively in their cubicle.  There is a process of sorts, really a set of principles enacted in rough sequence, that calls out a set of behaviors needed to leverage the power of the A3 Report as an organizational problem-solving tool.  So the back half of this chapter describes a practical approach to problem solving that is derived from our work on Toyota.

Viewing problem-solving as primarily a cerebral activity would be inconsistent with the PDCA philosophy, A3 thinking, and the Toyota Way.  Specific actions are needed to precipitate the right modes of thinking, which leads to the next actions and even deeper thinking, and so forth in a never-ending cycle of thinking and acting to produce the desired improvements.  Thus we present these two sides together—the thinking and the behaviors—in one chapter to convey this essential point.

Seven Elements of A3 Thinking

As we reflect on our experiences and research of Toyota, we find that intellectual development of people is a high priority at Toyota.  We also find that Toyota uses the A3 Report system as a way to cultivate the intellectual development of its members, and that they intentionally attempt to steer that development in specific ways.  We have distilled the mindset behind the A3 system to seven elements:

1.      Logical Thinking Process

2.      Objectivity

3.      Results and Process

4.      Synthesis, distillation, and visualization

5.      Alignment

6.      Coherency within and consistency across

7.      Systems viewpoint 

Let’s look at each of these elements in turn, and see how A3 Thinking becomes the basis for effective, real-time problem solving...