Case Study



What is it?

Toyota Motor Corporation is famed for its ability to relentlessly improve operational performance.  Central to this ability is the training of engineers, supervisors and managers in a structured problem-solving approach that uses a tool called the A3 Problem-Solving Report.  We have adapted the approach by articulating ten steps to proceed from problem identification to resolution in a fashion that fosters learning, collaboration, and personal development.  The problem-solver records the results of investigation and planning in a concise, two-page document (the A3 Report, also adapted from Toyota) that facilitates knowledge sharing and collaboration.

The term "A3" derives from the paper size used for the report, which is the metric equivalent to 11" x 17" (or B-sized) paper.  Toyota actually uses several styles of A3 reports--for solving problems, for reporting project status, and for proposing policy changes--each having its own "storyline."  We have focused on the problem-solving report simply because it is the most basic style, making it the best starting point.

Why use it?

Most problems that arise in organizations are addressed in superficial ways, what some call "first-order problem-solving."  That is, we work around the problem to accomplish our immediate objective, but do not address the root causes of the problem so as to prevent its recurrence. By not addressing the root cause, we encounter the same problem or same type of problem again and again, and operational performance does not improve.

The A3 Process helps people engage in collaborative, in-depth problem-solving. It drives problem-solvers to address the root causes of problems which surface in day-to-day work routines.  The A3 Process can be used for almost any situation, and our research has found that, when used properly (i.e., all of the steps are followed and completed), the chances of success improve dramatically.

To learn more about this powerful problem-solving methodology, click the buttons on the left to learn about:

  • The steps of the A3 process, with examples
  • The A3 Report (including a downloadable template)
  • A case study from a hospital
  • Some of our research from a National Science Foundation grant.

Throughout, we provide examples from an actual problem-solving exercise where the team used the A3 Process and A3 Report to decrease patient transport time from an average of 45 minutes to under 10 minutes.

Your comments and feedback and any questions are most welcome.  Please send them to: dsobek@ie.montana.edu

Funding for this work was provided by National Science Foundation grant #0115352. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.