What is A3 Thinking

Have you been involved in a Lean transformation project where you spent more time filling in PIDs (project imitation documents) than actually doing any change? Perhaps worse you’ve spent too much time and energy analysing data? Capturing and documenting reasons for change is important especially from a governance perspective. When done well you end up with a clear statement for change. When not done so well, you waste hours and writing and re-writing documents. A3 Thinking can save you time, effort and in the long term money.

So, what is A3 Thinking?

According to Isao Yoshino (Lecturer, Nagoya Gakuin University) A3 Thinking began as a tool to tell a PDCA story on a A3 sheet of paper as it had been commonly used by many Japanese companies since the 1960s.

From its early days at Toyota it eventually became a staple tool used for problem solving right across manufacturing and then into other sectors including healthcare.

For me, in its simplest form A3 Thinking is the argument for change (problem solving or otherwise) captured on a single A3 sheet of paper. If you dig deeper you will discover that A3 Thinking is about truly understanding your project requirements, your starting position, what benefits you want to deliver and how you will track and manage risk along the way.

Examples of A3 Documents

Why do you need A3 Thinking?

Apparently Taiichi Ohno (considered the father of TPS) refused to read more than the first page of written reports. Instead he’d say “let’s go and see” and make people “get the facts” while he tested their thinking.

This point i.e. testing their thinking is crucial.

I’ve been involved in hundreds of change programmes where even the senior management teams don’t know ‘why’ they’re doing a particular transformation programme. To be fair they probably did at the beginning – but that’s not always the case!

When you understand the why, you can discover the meaningful what.

Abdul Ghani, Exceed Excellence

When you are at the start of an improvement programme the temptation is to jump right in and start fixing the problem. You are likely to not have read (or at least fully understood) the associated change documents i.e. the PID. So with best foot forward you and your team dive straight in.

To ‘temper’ this enthusiasm it is better to use the energy to collect thoughts on the key elements that make up a A3 (see below).

If you don’t understand the problem how can you find the right fix?

Einstein is (apparently) famously quoted as saying ‘if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. Wise words. The ingenuity of A3 Thinking ‘forces’ you to capture and describe your problem statement in precise and concise terms. There just isn’t enough space for you to use hundreds of words.

The fewer the words the more likely your stakeholders are to read it and understand it.

What makes up an A3 Document?

The clever thing about an A3 document is that you can tailor it to your specific needs, dependent upon the project you are involved with.

Here are the headings that you would expect to see (this is not an exhaustive list);

  • Background: A brief summary of why your organisation is embarking upon the improvement project. In essence this sets the context.
  • Objectives: A concise list of your goals. You might argue that this is obvious. It probably is. However, by listing them here you have clearly and transparently articulated your goals. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • Project start and finish dates: When you state your date parameters you manage your stakeholders expectations on how much time and resources you may need to deliver change in the stated timescales.
  • Out of Scope: This clearly communicates what you’re not doing. If senior stakeholders want to change it, they need to also change the expected objectives and deliverables!
  • Key milestones: What key dates are you aiming for – helps with project management.
  • Critical Success Factors: What tangible deliverables have to be delivered to make the overall improvement project an universally agreed success. Unfortunately, many projects get right to the end before stakeholders realise that the end results were not what they wanted.
  • Dependencies: What other things have to be in place, or run in conjunction to enable you to successfully deliver this improvement.
  • KPIs: What are the metrics that you will use to measure / track improvements.
  • Key Stakeholders: who are the main participants that will / need to be involved. This communicates that you alone cannot deliver this change and that you need input from others

What are the main benefits of A3 Thinking?

It’s a long list. Perhaps the most beneficial elements of A3 Thinking are;

  • Information is precise and concise. This certainly helps if you’re a busy executive who has responsibilities for driving the change
  • It manages stakeholders expectations as it contains all the key information within it
  • Is flexible – you can amend the document to suit your individual needs
  • Effective communication with wider stakeholders
  • Clarity of what you will be doing, why, when and how
  • Easy to share, you don’t need fancy software to share it easily and widely
  • All the above achieves consensus for change


If you are about to start an improvement project then it’s definitely worth considering using an A3 to provide structure to your change process. You can also benefit hugely using an A3 to effectively communicating what your stakeholders. Remember that they will be more likely to read and engage with an A3 because of its conciseness and precision.

Let’s Start a Conversation

Got a question, thoughts or keen to want to know more? Get in touch, we look forward to hearing from you? Prefer to call – phone: 01709 680188 or email: info@exceedexcellence.local

Whether we decide to do business together or not, I’m sure you’ll find our conversation valuable!

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About the author

Abdul Ghani is founder and director at Exceed Excellence. Abdul has twenty year’s experience of hands on Lean implementation, project and change management. He is an improvement coach and an inspirational leader with multi-sector continuous/quality improvement expertise.

Abdul’s key strengths are seeing through complexity, identifying and delivering improvement and to quickly establish rapport and trust with stakeholders. Abdul has project managed, delivered improvement programmes and mentored / coached staff, at all levels, through major transformation programmes.

About Exceed Excellence

Exceed Excellence are process experts that get things done. We know you are busy and that your time and improvement resources are finite. That is why we take a very pragmatic and practical approach to everything that we do. Working with you, we ensure that you achieve sustainable change and realise required benefits.

With hands-on multi-sector experience, our expertise lies in consultancy, Lean Six Sigma, coaching, facilitating process improvement projects and providing Lean training and Operational Excellence masterclasses.

Featured Image: Photo by Bruce Mars from StockSnap

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