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There are A3 Plans and then there are A3 Plans

If you’ve been hanging around the lean community for a while, no doubt you will have come across the concept on an “A3 Plan”. Today we will look at what an A3 is and look at the different types of A3, to clarify which type you would use when – it can be a little confusing at the beginning.

 What is an A3 plan?

An A3 is simply a paper size (420mm x 297mm) but what an A3 plan represents in the lean and business community is the ability to put a plan onto one sheet of paper and use this one sheet of paper to communicate the intent of the plan, along with the current status.

With any lean approach, we are using the A3 plan to define the current state – where are we now?, the future state – where do we need to be? and the gap – the difference between the current and future states. We then need to highlight what we are going to do to close that gap and how are we going to measure and track our success. This is done in parallel to our Plan-Do-Check-Act thinking. the A3 plan isn’t only the Plan part, it is used to track the doing and checking, and adjusted as necessary during the Act or Adjust phase.

What are the types of A3 plans?

There are three main types of A3 plans

1. Strategic Planning A3

2. Project Status A3

3. Problem Solving A3

The number of A3 types and their actual names will vary between companies and industries. For the sake of simplicity here will will focus on the main three. The key here is to understand that there are different applications for the A3 plan.

Strategic Planning A3

This is the type of planning done at the senior leadership level of a company and is the overarching A3 plan. We want to use this type of A3 planning when the future state is in the medium to long term future – often 12 months or more. When starting out on your lean journey, this timeframe may start with a 6 month scope.

This high level of A3 plan still needs to follow the PDCA cycle. At this level the Check step is critical. Clear metrics need to be defined in the beginning so everyone understands what measures are important and how they will be collected and used. this will determine how the “success” of the project is perceived.

Project Status A3

Many action steps are needed to complete the strategic planning A3 and these individual actions are broken out into Project A3s, allowing each area or process owner the have their piece of the overall strategic plan. The key here is to make sure the scope is in agreement with the top level plan, and the metrics are a clean subset of the strategic ones. The best way to plan for success with a project A3 is to have complete alignment.

 Problem Solving A3

The problem solving A3 plan allows us to work through a problem. The aim is to get as much information and input from those involved in the process as possible to fully define what the problem actually is – without agreement as to the actual problem you are trying to solve, it will be very hard to get a consensus that the set of solutions you are going to trial and implement will actually solve that problems.

Note I said “set of solutions you are going to trial and implement” – problem solving needs to be viewed as a series of trials. Our traditional problem solving methods is for the loudest person in the room to declare what to do and then the smart ones have to try to get this “solution” to work; it is a HUGE waste of time, energy and resources. Having a true team problem solving approach will take time to develop but will provide better problem solving in the long run. Use the Problem Solving A3 plan to document the key inputs and trials being conducted to find a set of solutions.

Hierarchy of A3s

As you would expect, we need many more problems solved than we need strategic plans, so there will be many more problem solving A3s.

So next time you set out with your piece of A3 paper and a pencil, spend a few minutes consolidating your thoughts and check which type of A3 you are creating. The more concise your A3 is the better the outcome will be as you will be able to communicate the real problem or gap you are addressing.