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Back to Basics BY Alberto Ayulo

Breaking It Down
Dissecting the problem-solving A3 report
a3 thinking is based on the plan-do- a completed problem-solving A3 in its 5. Develop countermeasures. The
check-act cycle. This powerful way of think- entirety using the major phase inspection team takes the root cause from Block 4
ing is transcribed on a piece of paper (the process for a U-2 aircraft as an example. and assigns specific countermeasures. The
A3 report) a team of employees can use to The process is comprised of eight blocks, countermeasures should only specifically
produce a desired outcome for a proposed the first of which is illustrated in Figure 1. address the root cause and, in theory,
process. The A3 report is displayed on Remember there are an infinite number of should solve the problem identified in
ledger-sized paper (11 x 17 inches) and is tools you can use throughout this process Block 1. The completed fifth block is
broken into different sections, each clearly to populate each block: populated with any tool that will outline the
labeled and arranged in a logical flow. 1. Clarify and validate the problem. countermeasures.
The A3 report can be used for problem The team typically starts with a perceived 6. See countermeasures through.
solving, but there also are two other ways problem and uses data (quantitative, if The team tracks the countermeasures
of using it: a proposal A3 report and a story- possible) to validate whether it is, in fact, a from Block 5 and ensures each one is ac-
board A3 report. Each report has a slightly problem. The completed first block is popu- complished. The completed sixth block is
different focus, and the experience level lated with a problem statement and data to populated with the tool used in Block 5 to
of those facilitating the initiative may vary, validate it (Figure 1). outline the countermeasures and updated
but the foundation behind each A3 will not 2. Break down the problem and iden- as each is accomplished.
change. tify performance gaps. Next, the team 7. Confirm results and process.
begins to dissect the problem statement Depending on the course of action, the
Blocks to success from Block 1 and determines the area of team begins to track the results as counter-
Similar to the define, measure, analyze, focus. This is done using targeted data to measures are accomplished. After all are
improve and control method, the problem- find specific focus areas that break down completed, the team will use the data from
solving A3 has a specified path the user the larger problem into bite-sized pieces. Block 1 to determine if the countermeasures
must follow from beginning to end. Online The completed second block is populated from Block 5 are improving the process. The
Figure 1, found on this article’s webpage with data determining a focus area. completed seventh block is populated with
at www.qualityprogress.com, shows 3. Set an improvement target. The continued data from Block 1.
team determines what 8. Standardize successful processes.
Block 1 of A3 report / figure 1 success will look like. The The team will standardize process only af-
1. Clarify and validate the problem. improvement target, or ter confirming successful results validated
The U-2 major phase inspection is averaging 15 days, goal, must be relative to the in Block 7. The completed eighth block is
exceeding the 13-day inspection target, and cannot efficiently problem statement in Block populated with tasks that were implement-
sustain worldwide U-2 aircraft operational requirements. 1. The completed third ed to standardize process.
U-2 major phase inspection days block is populated with an As with any other framework, repeated
Sept. 10, 2008 – Feb. 27, 2009
improvement target. use of the A3 report is the fastest formula to
4. Determine root success, as each experience brings a differ-
causes. Using the focus ent outlook and a better understanding. QP
Actual O&M days

areas from Block 2, the


team determines the root ALBERTO AYULO is the regional
Good

Bad

causes. The completed continuous improvement manager for


the West Region of Johnson Controls
fourth block is populated in Tempe, AZ. He has a master’s
degree in HR management from
using root cause analysis Webster University in St. Louis. Ayulo
tools and highlights the is an ASQ-certified lean Six Sigma
Average: 15 Trend = Up Black Belt and Project Management
determined root cause. Institute-certified project management professional.
O&M = operations and maintenance

80 QP • www.qualityprogress.com