A Guide to Conducting A3 Problem Solving

Guide: A3 Problem Solving

In this Guide on A3 Problem solving we will run through what A3 Problem Solving is, why its important, and the 6 Steps of A3 problem solving including a real example of an A3 to follow along with to bring it to life.
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Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is an experienced continuous improvement manager with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Bachelor's degree in Business Management. With more than ten years of experience applying his skills across various industries, Daniel specializes in optimizing processes and improving efficiency. His approach combines practical experience with a deep understanding of business fundamentals to drive meaningful change.

Problem-solving is one of the key tools a successful business needs to structure improvements and one I have been using to solve problems in a structured way in my career at a range of businesses over the years. When there is a problem in business that is leading to increased costs, waste, quality issues, etc., it is necessary to address these problems. A3 structured problem solving is a Lean Six Sigma methodology that has been designed and developed to support continuous improvement and solve complex business problems in a logical and structured process. 

The guide will give you a full understanding of what A3 Problem solving is and a breakdown of all the steps of how to apply it within your business with an example of where I have made improvements with it previously.

Table of Contents

Importance of A3 in Lean Management

The A3 problem-solving method is a key tool in Lean Six Sigma and continuous improvement in business, and in my experience, it is often the standard approach all improvement activities must follow and is particularly popular in the automotive industry. This is because of the following:

  • Focus on Root Causes: Rather than applying a quick fix to a problem or jumping to conclusions and solutionizing, A3 requires gaining a deep understanding of the root causes of the problem. By addressing these root causes, the chances of recurrence is reduced.

  • Standardization: With a consistent format, the A3 process ensures that problems are approached in a standardized way, regardless of the team or department. This standardization creates a common language and understanding across the organization and ensures all problems are addressed to the same standard and approach.

  • Team Involvement: An A3 isn’t an individual process. It requires a cross-functional team to work together on problem-solving, ensuring that a range of perspectives and expertise is considered. This collective approach builds a stronger understanding of the problem and ensures that solutions are well-rounded and robust.

  • Visual Storytelling: The A3 report serves as a visual storyboard, making it easier for stakeholders at all levels to understand the problem, the analysis, and the countermeasures. This visualization enhances communication and drives alignment.

The 6 Steps of A3 Problem Solving (With Real Example)

The A3 problem-solving process can initially seem difficult if you have never done one before and particularly if you have never been a team member in one. To help you with this we will break down the 6 steps into manageable activities, followed by a real-life example to help you apply this method within your business.

As a side note, the A3 problem-solving process was actually one of the first Lean Six Sigma tools I learned to use three weeks into my continuous improvement career after being thrown into the deep end due to resource availability, so I can understand how difficult it can be to understand. 

Step 1: Describe the problem

In the first step of the A3 with the cross-functional team, we need to create a clear understanding of the problem we are looking to address, the current condition, and what containment actions are needed.

Problem Description

The problem description is an important first step in the process as it ensures a common understanding with the team of what the issue is that needs to be addressed. This can be done by using a technique called the 5W1H Is/Is Not method to help gain a clear understanding of the problem. 

To understand the 5W1H Is/Is Not the Process, check out our guide for details of that technique. However, in short, it’s about asking key questions about the problem, for example, “What IS the problem?” and “What IS NOT the problem?”

Let’s say you have been asked to look into a problem where “Machine downtime on the automotive assembly line has increased by 30% over the past three months, leading to production delays and increased costs.”

An example of a 5W1H Is/Is Not on this may result in the following output:

5W1H Is Is Not
Who Affects assembly line workers and leads Affecting administrative staff
What Increased machine downtime by 30% This affects all machinery on the floor
When Over the past 3 months An issue that has been consistent over the years
Where Automotive assembly line No.3 Present in assembly lines No.1 and No.2
Why Lack of preventive maintenance and outdated components Due to manual errors by operators
How Through interruptions in the assembly process Through supply chain or external factors

 Based on this we can create a clear problem description as the focus of the project that give the team a clear and common understanding of the issue looking to be resolved in the next steps of the process.
The problem description could then be written as:

“Over the past three months, machine downtime on Automotive Assembly Line No.3 has increased by 30%. This has predominantly affected the assembly line workers and leads, leading to production delays and higher labour costs. “

Current Condition

Next is demonstrating the current condition and demonstrating the impact on the business. This can often be done with data and charts to back up the problem that might show trends or changes in outputs.

This might look something like the below and demonstrate a good baseline for confirming the improvement at the end of the A3

A3 Structured Problem Solving - Step 1 - Chart

Containment Actions

Next is containment actions. Since you have identified a problem, there is likely an impact on the business or the customer. As a team, you should consider what can be done to limit or eliminate this problem in the short term. Remember this is just a containment action and should not be seen as a long-term fix. 

In our situation we decided to “Implement temporary overtime shifts to meet production goals, leading to an increase in labor costs.”

At this stage, the A3 should look similar to the one below; you can use charts and graphics to represent the current state as well if they fit within the limit area. Remember, we must include the content of the A3 within the 1-page A3 Document.

A3 Structured Problem Solving - Step 1

Step 2: Set the A3 Goals

The next step of the A3 is to, as a team, set the goal for the project. As we have a clear understanding of the current condition of the problem, we can use that as our baseline for improvement and set a realistic target for improvement. 

A suggested method for setting the Target condition would be to use the SMART Target method.

If you are not familiar with SMART Targets, read our guide; it will cover the topic in much more detail. In short, a SMART target creates a goal statement that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. 

By doing this you make it very clear what the goal of the project is, how it will be measured, it is something that can be achieved, relevant to the needs of the business and has a deadline for when results need to be seen.

For our A3 we decided that the goal would be “Our goal is to achieve at least a 20% reduction in machine downtime on Automotive Assembly Line No.3, lowering it from 90 minutes to no more than 72 minutes per day per machine, within the next 60 days. This reduction is crucial for increasing productivity and reducing labour costs, aligning with our overall business objectives.”

I also recommend using charts in this section to visualize the benefit or improvement to ensure you have stakeholder and sponsor support. Visuals are much easier and faster for people to understand.

A3 Structured Problem Solving - Step 2 - Chart

At this point, your A3 might look something like the one below, with the first 1/4 or section complete. The next step is to move on to the root cause analysis to get to the root of the problem and ensure the improvement does not focus on addressing the symptoms of the problem.

A3 Structured Problem Solving - Step 2

Step 3: Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis is the next step in the process, often referred to as gap analysis, as this step focuses on how to get to the goal condition from the current condition.

Tip: If at this point you find the team going off-topic and focusing on other issues, Ask the question, “Is this preventing us from hitting our goal statement?”  I have found this very useful for keeping on track in my time as an A3 facilitator.

For root cause analysis, a couple of key tools are usually used: a fishbone diagram and a five-why Analysis. Again, we won’t go into the full details of these tools within this guide, as they have been covered in extensive detail in their own guides.

But the aim at this point is as a team, to brainstorm what is preventing us from achieving our target condition. This is done by allowing all members of the team to input the reasons they think it is not being achieved. These inputs are often written on sticky notes and placed on the fishbone diagram. Following this, you may have results similar to the ones below. 

Note: it is important that the inputs are specific so they can be understood. e.g. “Calibration” alone is not specific to how it’s causing the problem; specify it with “Calibration: Inaccurate measurements affecting machine settings.”

A3 Structured Problem Solving - Step 3 - Fishbone Diagram

After the fishbone diagram has been populated and the team has exhausted all ideas, the team should then vote on the most likely cause to explore with a 5 Whys analysis. This is done because, due to resource limitations, it is unlikely all of the suggestions can be explored and actioned.

In this situation the team decided the “lack of preventative machines: machines not being serviced regularly” was the cause of increased downtime. This was explored with the 5 Whys to get to the root cause of why Assembly Line 3 did not have preventative maintenance implemented.

The result of this root cause analysis can be seen below, and you may end up with more ideas on the fishbone, as generally there are a lot of ideas generated by a diverse team during brainstorming.

A3 Structured Problem Solving - Step 3

Step 4: Solutions and Corrective Actions

Now that we understand what the root cause of the problem is, we need to address it with solutions and corrective actions. Again, as a team, consider the root cause of the problem and discuss what actions need to be taken by the team, who will do them, and when they will be done.

The result should be an action plan, for example, like the one below:

A3 Structured Problem Solving - Step 4 - Action List

This action plan needs to be carried out and implemented.

The result of this section will likely just be an action list and look like the below section.

A3 Structured Problem Solving - Step 4

Step 5: Validate Solution and Standardize

Within step 5 it is time to collect data to validate and confirm the actions that have been implemented resulting in solving the problem and meeting the target state of the problem. This is done by continuing to collect data that demonstrates the problem in the baseline to see if the problem is being reduced.

For example, below, the project team continued to collect Assembly Line 3 downtime data on a weekly basis. Initially, there was a steady reduction, likely due to the focus of the project on the problem, which had some impact. However, once the majority of the action was implemented, a huge drop in product downtime was seen, exceeding the target. This showed the actions have been successful

A3 Structured Problem Solving - Step 5 - Confirmation Chart

If, in the validation stage, you find that the improvement required is not being made, you should go back to step 3 and reconsider the root cause analysis with the team, pick another area to focus on, and create an action plan for that following the same steps.

A3 Structured Problem Solving - Step 5

Step 6: Preventive Actions and Lessons Learned

In step 6 after the confirmation of project success you should look at preventive actions and lessons learned to be shared from this project:

  • Preventive Action: The new preventive maintenance schedule will be standardized across all assembly lines. This will prevent other lines having similar issues and make further improvements
  • Lessons Learned: A formal review will be conducted to document the process, including challenges faced and how they were overcome, which will then be archived for future reference.

In our project, this looked like the one below and will be used as a reference point in the future for similar issues. 

A3 Structured Problem Solving Step 6

And that is the successful completion of a structured A3 problem-solving technique.

The complete A3 looks like the below image. Yours may slightly differ as the problem and information vary between projects.

A3 Structured problem solving example sheet with all the steps of the A3 Process on an A3 Report

Downloadable A3 Reporting Template

To support you with your A3 problem solving, you can download our free A3 problem solving report from the template section of the website.



Problem-solving is important in businesses, specifically when faced with increased costs or quality issues. A3 Structured Problem Solving, rooted in Lean Six Sigma, addresses complex business challenges systematically.

Originally from Toyota’s lean methodology, A3, named after the 11″x17″ paper size, visually maps problem-solving processes. This method ensures concise communication and focuses on crucial details, as illustrated by the provided example.

Emphasized in Lean Management, A3 stresses understanding root causes, standardization across teams, team collaboration, and visual representation for clarity. This tool is not only a guide to understanding the issue but is a standardized format ensuring robust solutions. Particularly for novices, breaking down its six steps, from problem description to setting A3 goals and root cause analysis, provides clarity. Visual aids further enhance comprehension and alignment across stakeholders.


A: A3 problem solving is a structured approach used to tackle complex problems and find effective solutions. It gets its name from the A3-sized paper that is typically used to document the problem-solving process.

A: A3 problem solving provides several benefits, including improved communication, enhanced teamwork, better problem understanding, increased problem-solving effectiveness, and the development of a culture of continuous improvement.

A: A3 problem solving emphasizes a systematic and structured approach, focusing on problem understanding, root cause analysis, and the development and implementation of countermeasures. It promotes a holistic view of the problem and encourages collaboration and learning throughout the process.

A: The A3 problem-solving process typically involves the following steps: problem identification and description, current condition analysis, goal setting, root cause analysis, countermeasure development, implementation planning, action plan execution, and follow-up and evaluation.

A: The problem identification and description step is crucial for clarifying the problem, its impact, and the desired outcome. It helps establish a common understanding among the team members and ensures everyone is working towards the same goal.


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Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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