Besides referring to what's basically an 11” x 17” piece of paper, an A3 is a one page project report intended to be a standardized approach for team oriented problem solving.
A3s arose from Toyota’s Quality Circle problem solving endeavors in the 1960s. It took off because it drove teams to gather the most important information on one sheet of paper, leading to a report that's more readable and understandable - if you can’t say it with one page, you’re not concise enough.
Over time, Toyota and other groups have developed different styles of A3s to be used in different situations.
A3s can be used in a variety of ways, the most common of which include:
Header: This includes basic information about the company or the specific team. Many people use this as a chance to uniformly identify participating teams or departments.
Background: This is where you make your case, offering a reason or need for the project’s existence. Here, the focus is on the problem rather than on the solution.
Current State: This is a fact and data area, typically comprised of graphs and illustrations for ease of reading. Be careful not to jump to solutions in this section.
Problem: Here, the current state is analyzed. The issue under consideration is broken down and the gathered data is analyzed. It’s important to try to find the root cause of the problem so that it is known what needs to change.
Future State: This area details your specific goals, and any countermeasures to the specific issue. Remember to keep the customer in mind and, as they say, use “creativity before capital.”
Implementation Plan: This is where you discuss Who, What, and When - layout the steps and timing of the project, and identify team leaders. Additionally, you should find a way to stay up to date on the progress over time.
Results: Finally, compare the results to the plan and consider the total long-term effect of the project on the organization. Remember to take into account benefits apart from money, such as safety, quality, and time.
* A3 Image Source: Healthcare Kaizen (Graban)