A3 Thinking

A3 Thinking, rooted in Lean and Toyota Production System, employs a structured A3 report-based approach for problem-solving. It involves steps from problem ID to solution implementation, promotes cross-functional collaboration, data-driven decisions, and visual communication. Fosters continuous improvement but challenges include handling complexity and facilitation requirements.

Understanding A3 Thinking

A3 thinking gets its name from the international paper size A3, which is approximately 11.7 by 16.5 inches. The concept revolves around using a single A3-sized sheet of paper as a visual tool to guide problem-solving and communication. The A3 document serves as a structured way to capture the problem, analyze it, propose countermeasures, and develop an action plan.

Key Components of A3 Thinking

A3 thinking typically involves the following key components:

  1. Problem Statement: Clearly define the problem or challenge that needs to be addressed. This should include the problem’s impact on the organization, stakeholders, and customers.
  2. Current State Analysis: Describe the current situation or process related to the problem. This analysis often includes data, observations, and root cause analysis to identify the underlying issues.
  3. Goal Statement: Specify the desired outcome or target condition. What does success look like once the problem is resolved?
  4. Gap Analysis: Highlight the gap between the current state and the goal state. This step clarifies the extent of the problem and the magnitude of the improvement needed.
  5. Root Cause Analysis: Identify the root causes contributing to the problem. This can involve techniques such as the “5 Whys” to dig deep into the underlying issues.
  6. Countermeasures: Propose potential solutions or countermeasures to address the root causes. These should be based on data and analysis.
  7. Implementation Plan: Develop a detailed plan for implementing the chosen countermeasures. This plan includes timelines, responsibilities, and resources required.
  8. Follow-Up and Monitoring: Define how progress will be monitored and measured. This includes specifying key performance indicators (KPIs) and checkpoints.
  9. Results: Once the countermeasures are implemented, document the actual results achieved. Compare these results to the initial goal and assess the effectiveness of the solution.

The PDCA Cycle in A3 Thinking

A3 thinking often aligns with the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, also known as the Deming Cycle. This cycle is a systematic approach to continuous improvement and consists of the following stages:

  • Plan: Identify the problem and establish objectives. Plan the actions needed to achieve the desired results.
  • Do: Execute the plan by implementing the proposed countermeasures.
  • Check: Evaluate the outcomes and results of the implemented actions. Compare them to the planned objectives and identify any gaps.
  • Act: Based on the findings from the “Check” stage, take corrective actions and adjustments as necessary. This step includes standardizing successful processes and continuously improving.

Applications of A3 Thinking

A3 thinking is a versatile problem-solving and improvement methodology that can be applied to various areas within an organization. Some common applications include:

  1. Process Improvement: A3 thinking is often used to identify and resolve process inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and quality issues.
  2. Product Development: Teams can use A3 thinking to address challenges related to new product development, design changes, or product quality improvements.
  3. Customer Problem Resolution: Organizations can employ A3 thinking to investigate and resolve customer complaints or issues effectively.
  4. Cost Reduction: A3 thinking can help identify cost-saving opportunities and implement measures to reduce operational expenses.
  5. Strategic Planning: Some organizations apply A3 thinking to strategic planning, helping to set objectives, analyze market conditions, and determine action plans.
  6. Cross-Functional Collaboration: A3 documents facilitate cross-functional collaboration by providing a structured format for communication and problem-solving.

Benefits of A3 Thinking

Implementing A3 thinking offers several benefits to organizations:

  1. Structured Problem Solving: A3 thinking provides a systematic and structured approach to problem-solving, ensuring that teams thoroughly investigate and address root causes.
  2. Visual Communication: A3 documents serve as visual aids that help teams and stakeholders understand complex issues and solutions quickly.
  3. Data-Driven Decision-Making: A3 thinking emphasizes the importance of data analysis, ensuring that decisions and countermeasures are based on factual information.
  4. Efficiency: By focusing on the most critical issues and implementing effective countermeasures, organizations can achieve significant efficiency improvements.
  5. Standardization: Successful countermeasures can be standardized to prevent the recurrence of similar problems in the future.
  6. Continuous Improvement: A3 thinking aligns with the principles of continuous improvement, fostering a culture of ongoing problem-solving and learning.

Challenges and Considerations

While A3 thinking is a valuable tool for organizations, it is not without challenges and considerations:

  1. Skill and Training: Effective implementation of A3 thinking requires training and skill development. Teams must be trained in problem-solving techniques, root cause analysis, and the use of A3 documents.
  2. Cultural Shift: Adopting A3 thinking often requires a cultural shift within an organization. Embracing a culture of continuous improvement and data-driven decision-making may face resistance.
  3. Resource Allocation: A3 thinking may require dedicating resources, including time and personnel, to address problems and implement countermeasures effectively.
  4. Documentation and Follow-Up: Maintaining accurate and up-to-date A3 documents and ensuring follow-up on implemented countermeasures can be resource-intensive.

Implementing A3 Thinking

Implementing A3 thinking in an organization involves the following steps:

  1. Training: Provide training to employees and teams on A3 thinking principles, problem-solving techniques, and the use of A3 documents.
  2. Selecting Projects: Identify projects or problems that can benefit from A3 thinking. Start with smaller, manageable projects to gain experience.
  3. A3 Document Creation: Work with teams to create A3 documents that clearly define the problem, analyze it, propose countermeasures, and outline implementation plans.
  4. Review and Approval: Review A3 documents with relevant stakeholders for feedback and approval. Ensure that all parties understand and support the proposed actions.
  5. Implementation: Execute the countermeasures and action plans outlined in the A3 documents.
  6. Monitoring and Review: Continuously monitor progress, track results, and review A3 documents to assess the effectiveness of the implemented solutions.
  7. Standardization: If successful, standardize the effective countermeasures and incorporate them into standard operating procedures.

Key Highlights of A3 Thinking:

  • Lean Roots: A3 Thinking originates from Lean principles and the Toyota Production System, emphasizing efficiency and waste reduction.
  • One-Page A3 Report: The methodology revolves around a concise one-page A3 report, facilitating clear communication and focused problem-solving.
  • Structured Process: A3 Thinking follows a step-by-step approach, guiding teams through problem identification, analysis, goal-setting, root cause analysis, solution planning, and implementation.
  • Cross-Functional Collaboration: A3 Thinking encourages collaboration among diverse experts to ensure comprehensive problem understanding and innovative solutions.
  • Data-Driven Decisions: Solutions are grounded in accurate data and analysis, promoting evidence-based decision-making.
  • Visual Communication: Visual elements in the A3 report aid in conveying complex information effectively, fostering shared understanding.
  • Continuous Improvement Culture: A3 Thinking fosters a culture of ongoing learning and improvement by promoting regular problem-solving.
  • Holistic Problem Solving: The methodology tackles complex problems by addressing root causes, leading to lasting and sustainable solutions.
  • Organizational Learning: A3 Thinking enables organizations to accumulate knowledge from various problem-solving efforts and apply it for continuous enhancement.
  • Facilitation and Leadership: Effective facilitation and leadership are essential to guide teams through the A3 problem-solving process and overcome challenges.

Connected Agile & Lean Frameworks


AIOps is the application of artificial intelligence to IT operations. It has become particularly useful for modern IT management in hybridized, distributed, and dynamic environments. AIOps has become a key operational component of modern digital-based organizations, built around software and algorithms.


AgileSHIFT is a framework that prepares individuals for transformational change by creating a culture of agility.

Agile Methodology

Agile started as a lightweight development method compared to heavyweight software development, which is the core paradigm of the previous decades of software development. By 2001 the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was born as a set of principles that defined the new paradigm for software development as a continuous iteration. This would also influence the way of doing business.

Agile Program Management

Agile Program Management is a means of managing, planning, and coordinating interrelated work in such a way that value delivery is emphasized for all key stakeholders. Agile Program Management (AgilePgM) is a disciplined yet flexible agile approach to managing transformational change within an organization.

Agile Project Management

Agile project management (APM) is a strategy that breaks large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. In the APM methodology, each project is completed in small sections – often referred to as iterations. Each iteration is completed according to its project life cycle, beginning with the initial design and progressing to testing and then quality assurance.

Agile Modeling

Agile Modeling (AM) is a methodology for modeling and documenting software-based systems. Agile Modeling is critical to the rapid and continuous delivery of software. It is a collection of values, principles, and practices that guide effective, lightweight software modeling.

Agile Business Analysis

Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Andon System

The andon system alerts managerial, maintenance, or other staff of a production process problem. The alert itself can be activated manually with a button or pull cord, but it can also be activated automatically by production equipment. Most Andon boards utilize three colored lights similar to a traffic signal: green (no errors), yellow or amber (problem identified, or quality check needed), and red (production stopped due to unidentified issue).

Bimodal Portfolio Management

Bimodal Portfolio Management (BimodalPfM) helps an organization manage both agile and traditional portfolios concurrently. Bimodal Portfolio Management – sometimes referred to as bimodal development – was coined by research and advisory company Gartner. The firm argued that many agile organizations still needed to run some aspects of their operations using traditional delivery models.

Business Innovation Matrix

Business innovation is about creating new opportunities for an organization to reinvent its core offerings, revenue streams, and enhance the value proposition for existing or new customers, thus renewing its whole business model. Business innovation springs by understanding the structure of the market, thus adapting or anticipating those changes.

Business Model Innovation

Business model innovation is about increasing the success of an organization with existing products and technologies by crafting a compelling value proposition able to propel a new business model to scale up customers and create a lasting competitive advantage. And it all starts by mastering the key customers.

Constructive Disruption

A consumer brand company like Procter & Gamble (P&G) defines “Constructive Disruption” as: a willingness to change, adapt, and create new trends and technologies that will shape our industry for the future. According to P&G, it moves around four pillars: lean innovation, brand building, supply chain, and digitalization & data analytics.

Continuous Innovation

That is a process that requires a continuous feedback loop to develop a valuable product and build a viable business model. Continuous innovation is a mindset where products and services are designed and delivered to tune them around the customers’ problem and not the technical solution of its founders.

Design Sprint

A design sprint is a proven five-day process where critical business questions are answered through speedy design and prototyping, focusing on the end-user. A design sprint starts with a weekly challenge that should finish with a prototype, test at the end, and therefore a lesson learned to be iterated.

Design Thinking

Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.


DevOps refers to a series of practices performed to perform automated software development processes. It is a conjugation of the term “development” and “operations” to emphasize how functions integrate across IT teams. DevOps strategies promote seamless building, testing, and deployment of products. It aims to bridge a gap between development and operations teams to streamline the development altogether.

Dual Track Agile

Product discovery is a critical part of agile methodologies, as its aim is to ensure that products customers love are built. Product discovery involves learning through a raft of methods, including design thinking, lean start-up, and A/B testing to name a few. Dual Track Agile is an agile methodology containing two separate tracks: the “discovery” track and the “delivery” track.

eXtreme Programming

eXtreme Programming was developed in the late 1990s by Ken Beck, Ron Jeffries, and Ward Cunningham. During this time, the trio was working on the Chrysler Comprehensive Compensation System (C3) to help manage the company payroll system. eXtreme Programming (XP) is a software development methodology. It is designed to improve software quality and the ability of software to adapt to changing customer needs.

Feature-Driven Development

Feature-Driven Development is a pragmatic software process that is client and architecture-centric. Feature-Driven Development (FDD) is an agile software development model that organizes workflow according to which features need to be developed next.

Gemba Walk

A Gemba Walk is a fundamental component of lean management. It describes the personal observation of work to learn more about it. Gemba is a Japanese word that loosely translates as “the real place”, or in business, “the place where value is created”. The Gemba Walk as a concept was created by Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System of lean manufacturing. Ohno wanted to encourage management executives to leave their offices and see where the real work happened. This, he hoped, would build relationships between employees with vastly different skillsets and build trust.

GIST Planning

GIST Planning is a relatively easy and lightweight agile approach to product planning that favors autonomous working. GIST Planning is a lean and agile methodology that was created by former Google product manager Itamar Gilad. GIST Planning seeks to address this situation by creating lightweight plans that are responsive and adaptable to change. GIST Planning also improves team velocity, autonomy, and alignment by reducing the pervasive influence of management. It consists of four blocks: goals, ideas, step-projects, and tasks.

ICE Scoring

The ICE Scoring Model is an agile methodology that prioritizes features using data according to three components: impact, confidence, and ease of implementation. The ICE Scoring Model was initially created by author and growth expert Sean Ellis to help companies expand. Today, the model is broadly used to prioritize projects, features, initiatives, and rollouts. It is ideally suited for early-stage product development where there is a continuous flow of ideas and momentum must be maintained.

Innovation Funnel

An innovation funnel is a tool or process ensuring only the best ideas are executed. In a metaphorical sense, the funnel screens innovative ideas for viability so that only the best products, processes, or business models are launched to the market. An innovation funnel provides a framework for the screening and testing of innovative ideas for viability.

Innovation Matrix

According to how well defined is the problem and how well defined the domain, we have four main types of innovations: basic research (problem and domain or not well defined); breakthrough innovation (domain is not well defined, the problem is well defined); sustaining innovation (both problem and domain are well defined); and disruptive innovation (domain is well defined, the problem is not well defined).

Innovation Theory

The innovation loop is a methodology/framework derived from the Bell Labs, which produced innovation at scale throughout the 20th century. They learned how to leverage a hybrid innovation management model based on science, invention, engineering, and manufacturing at scale. By leveraging individual genius, creativity, and small/large groups.

Lean vs. Agile

The Agile methodology has been primarily thought of for software development (and other business disciplines have also adopted it). Lean thinking is a process improvement technique where teams prioritize the value streams to improve it continuously. Both methodologies look at the customer as the key driver to improvement and waste reduction. Both methodologies look at improvement as something continuous.

Lean Startup

A startup company is a high-tech business that tries to build a scalable business model in tech-driven industries. A startup company usually follows a lean methodology, where continuous innovation, driven by built-in viral loops is the rule. Thus, driving growth and building network effects as a consequence of this strategy.

Minimum Viable Product

As pointed out by Eric Ries, a minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort through a cycle of build, measure, learn; that is the foundation of the lean startup methodology.

Leaner MVP

A leaner MVP is the evolution of the MPV approach. Where the market risk is validated before anything else


Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.


Jidoka was first used in 1896 by Sakichi Toyoda, who invented a textile loom that would stop automatically when it encountered a defective thread. Jidoka is a Japanese term used in lean manufacturing. The term describes a scenario where machines cease operating without human intervention when a problem or defect is discovered.

PDCA Cycle

The PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle was first proposed by American physicist and engineer Walter A. Shewhart in the 1920s. The PDCA cycle is a continuous process and product improvement method and an essential component of the lean manufacturing philosophy.

Rational Unified Process

Rational unified process (RUP) is an agile software development methodology that breaks the project life cycle down into four distinct phases.

Rapid Application Development

RAD was first introduced by author and consultant James Martin in 1991. Martin recognized and then took advantage of the endless malleability of software in designing development models. Rapid Application Development (RAD) is a methodology focusing on delivering rapidly through continuous feedback and frequent iterations.

Retrospective Analysis

Retrospective analyses are held after a project to determine what worked well and what did not. They are also conducted at the end of an iteration in Agile project management. Agile practitioners call these meetings retrospectives or retros. They are an effective way to check the pulse of a project team, reflect on the work performed to date, and reach a consensus on how to tackle the next sprint cycle. These are the five stages of a retrospective analysis for effective Agile project management: set the stage, gather the data, generate insights, decide on the next steps, and close the retrospective.

Scaled Agile

Scaled Agile Lean Development (ScALeD) helps businesses discover a balanced approach to agile transition and scaling questions. The ScALed approach helps businesses successfully respond to change. Inspired by a combination of lean and agile values, ScALed is practitioner-based and can be completed through various agile frameworks and practices.


The SMED (single minute exchange of die) method is a lean production framework to reduce waste and increase production efficiency. The SMED method is a framework for reducing the time associated with completing an equipment changeover.

Spotify Model

The Spotify Model is an autonomous approach to scaling agile, focusing on culture communication, accountability, and quality. The Spotify model was first recognized in 2012 after Henrik Kniberg, and Anders Ivarsson released a white paper detailing how streaming company Spotify approached agility. Therefore, the Spotify model represents an evolution of agile.

Test-Driven Development

As the name suggests, TDD is a test-driven technique for delivering high-quality software rapidly and sustainably. It is an iterative approach based on the idea that a failing test should be written before any code for a feature or function is written. Test-Driven Development (TDD) is an approach to software development that relies on very short development cycles.


Timeboxing is a simple yet powerful time-management technique for improving productivity. Timeboxing describes the process of proactively scheduling a block of time to spend on a task in the future. It was first described by author James Martin in a book about agile software development.


Scrum is a methodology co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland for effective team collaboration on complex products. Scrum was primarily thought for software development projects to deliver new software capability every 2-4 weeks. It is a sub-group of agile also used in project management to improve startups’ productivity.


Scrumban is a project management framework that is a hybrid of two popular agile methodologies: Scrum and Kanban. Scrumban is a popular approach to helping businesses focus on the right strategic tasks while simultaneously strengthening their processes.

Scrum Anti-Patterns

Scrum anti-patterns describe any attractive, easy-to-implement solution that ultimately makes a problem worse. Therefore, these are the practice not to follow to prevent issues from emerging. Some classic examples of scrum anti-patterns comprise absent product owners, pre-assigned tickets (making individuals work in isolation), and discounting retrospectives (where review meetings are not useful to really make improvements).

Scrum At Scale

Scrum at Scale (Scrum@Scale) is a framework that Scrum teams use to address complex problems and deliver high-value products. Scrum at Scale was created through a joint venture between the Scrum Alliance and Scrum Inc. The joint venture was overseen by Jeff Sutherland, a co-creator of Scrum and one of the principal authors of the Agile Manifesto.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating errors or defects in a product, service, or process. Six Sigma was developed by Motorola as a management approach based on quality fundamentals in the early 1980s. A decade later, it was popularized by General Electric who estimated that the methodology saved them $12 billion in the first five years of operation.

Stretch Objectives

Stretch objectives describe any task an agile team plans to complete without expressly committing to do so. Teams incorporate stretch objectives during a Sprint or Program Increment (PI) as part of Scaled Agile. They are used when the agile team is unsure of its capacity to attain an objective. Therefore, stretch objectives are instead outcomes that, while extremely desirable, are not the difference between the success or failure of each sprint.

Toyota Production System

The Toyota Production System (TPS) is an early form of lean manufacturing created by auto-manufacturer Toyota. Created by the Toyota Motor Corporation in the 1940s and 50s, the Toyota Production System seeks to manufacture vehicles ordered by customers most quickly and efficiently possible.

Total Quality Management

The Total Quality Management (TQM) framework is a technique based on the premise that employees continuously work on their ability to provide value to customers. Importantly, the word “total” means that all employees are involved in the process – regardless of whether they work in development, production, or fulfillment.


The waterfall model was first described by Herbert D. Benington in 1956 during a presentation about the software used in radar imaging during the Cold War. Since there were no knowledge-based, creative software development strategies at the time, the waterfall method became standard practice. The waterfall model is a linear and sequential project management framework. 

Read Also: Continuous InnovationAgile MethodologyLean StartupBusiness Model InnovationProject Management.

Read Next: Agile Methodology, Lean Methodology, Agile Project Management, Scrum, Kanban, Six Sigma.

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