The A3 in Developing R&D Thinking
e A3 report, named aer the A3 size of paper
on which it is written, is
nothing more than an explicit, single-page format for solving problems
or answering questions using the scientic method (Figure5.1).
e A3
has ve main sections. e rst section is devoted entirely to dening the
problem or question being posed. e second is devoted to understanding
the circumstances surrounding the problem or question. e third section
helps reframe that understanding into a possible path, process, or future
state in which that problem no longer exists. e fourth section denes
an experimental path (the learning plan) to test and achieve this future
state, including the parameters that dene what success would look like in
that future state. e nal section describes the results of the experimental
section compared with the success criteria, describes open or unresolved
issues, and, where possible, describes potential approaches to resolve those
ese ve sections contain all of the elements of the scientic method.
As such, it enables deep problem solving on one easily created, shared, and
digested sheet.
For those not familiar with the A3 paper size, it is fairly large. A3 is approximately double the size
of a standard U.S. letter-size sheet. (A3 measures approximately 11 × 17 inches.)
Although all A3s have the same basic sections, there is no “ocial” layout for the A3. People and
organizations have developed variations to suit their specic problems and their own organiza-
tion’s needs. In this chapter, I use a format developed at Pzer. It is similar to a standard Toyota
format (see John Shook, Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process [Cambridge, MA:
e Lean Enterprise Institute, 2009]), with language altered slightly to avoid confusion with other
Pzer terminology.
72 • Creating a Lean R&D System
Title (the critical question to be answered or problem to be solved)
lue (also business case or background
Goal/Target Condition(s)
Future State/Proposed Countermeasures
Learning Plan
Results/Countermeasures/Future Implications
rrent State
ExperimentExpected Outcome Owner D
ue Date
A typical A3 layout as described in the text and used in R&D projects.
e A3 in Developing R&D inking • 73
At one page, the most obvious purpose of the A3 is to facilitate concise
rapid communication. Interestingly, it is not primarily the communica-
tion of results that the A3 is designed to convey. Instead, the A3 is designed
to communicate the thinking process that someone is using to solve a prob-
lem. Showing the A3 author’s thinking process has four main values:
1. It facilitates practice in (and reection on) thinking and problem-
solving skills by the author.
2. It facilitates engagement of others in the problem-solving process.
3. It facilitates mentorship of the author by others engaged in the prob-
lem-solving process.
4. It provides a simple format for archiving in-progress and completed
learning cycles.
In the previous chapter, we stated that one of the commitments that
Lean scientists have is to continue to explore and improve their scientic
problem-solving/question-answering skills. Just like a journal provides a
practice environment for writers to sharpen their ability to convey mean-
ing through words, the A3 provides a practice environment for research-
ers to practice scientic thinking. By writing down and making explicit
their approaches to solving individual problems, A3 authors can easily
see their muddled or incomplete thinking. ey can identify new areas of
inquiry, gaps in rigor, and opportunities to explore alternative possibilities
that would not otherwise occur. In a way, scientic problem solving is a
lot like doing higher math in a car. It is possible to “carry the two” while
driving, but it is a lot easier to stop, pull out a sheet of paper to write down
the equations, and work through the problem with visual reminders. e
A3 provides those visual reminders, supporting the scientist’s need to roll
things around in his mind, plugging together, removing and adapting
ideas as they ow through his mind. It is a powerful self-learning tool.
A very intentional purpose of the A3, the power of which proved sur-
prising in R&D, was the ability of the A3 to engage others in problem solv-
ing. It is not unusual in the corporate world to go through reorganization,
and we were not immune to such events. During one such reorganization,
I had been working with a team that had developed a robust set of A3s to
help guide the science behind their project. e team lost 40 percent of its

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