The Seven A3 Problem Solving Steps in Detail

Author: Debashis Sarkar
Posted: 05/17/2010  12:00:00 AM EDT

As I introduced A3 problem solving in my last column, I will now discuss in detail the steps involved with this problem solving approach.

Background of A3 Problem Solving

A3 problem solving is quite similar to other problem solving approaches which mirror Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle. The comparison between A3 problem solving and PDCA is depicted in Table 1. 

Table 1

 A3 Steps  PDCA Cycle
 Background  Plan
 Problem Statement
 Goal Statement
 Root Cause Analysis
 Countermeasures  Do
 Effect Confirmation  Check
 Follow Up Actions  Act

A3 Problem Solving Steps

Using a very simple approach, A3 problem solving is composed of the following seven steps shown below.

Step 1: Background

In this step, you make the business case for selecting a particular problem for resolution. Upon your selection, clearly state how the problem impacts the strategic business objectives around customers, process, financials, new products, etc.

Step 2: Problem Statement

Detail the specifics of the problem. These may include the magnitude of the problem, where and when the problem occurred, and the problem’s impact on the business. By defining these specifics on a quantitative scale, you help to bring the problem to life for your organization.

Step 3: Goal Statement

In this step, state what you are trying to accomplish by initiating the A3 problem solving project. Map out what goals you are trying to achieve and set a timeframe for completing these goals.

Step 4: Root Cause Analysis

Having fully defined the problem, carry out a root cause analysis to determine the most basic reasons of your problem. Be as thorough as possible. 

Step 5: Countermeasures 

With the root causes in place, come up with the countermeasures that you will use to reach your objective in solving the problem. Draw up a detailed plan that outlines who will deploy the countermeasures and when this deployment will be completed. Following the 5WIH structure helps in this step.

Step 6: Effect Confirmation 

Having implemented the countermeasures, look at the results. Determine whether the results indicate that your countermeasures were effective in meeting your objective.

Step 7: Follow Up Action 

Having achieved your results, deploy the infrastructure for sustaining the gains (such as standardization, audits, dashboards and reviews). Make sure that you roll out your findings across the organization, which in Japanese is called yoko-narabi-tenkai, meaning “lateral deployment of findings to other groups.” (Click on image to enlarge.)

Figure 1: A3 Problem Solving Template and Flow


A3 problem solving may appear to be a simple seven step approach which helps in solving business problems. However, it is not that simple. It requires the right context and conditions. In a subsequent column, I will share the Dos and Don’ts of A3 problem solving and will show how you can apply its tools to service processes.


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