71
5
The A3 in Developing R&D Thinking
DESCRIPTION OF THE A3
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
issues.
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)
Va
lue (also business case or background
section)
Goal/Target Condition(s)
Future State/Proposed Countermeasures
Learning Plan
Results/Countermeasures/Future Implications
Cu
rrent State
Analysis/S
ynthesis
1
2
3
n
...
ExperimentExpected Outcome Owner D
ue Date
FIGURE 5.1
A typical A3 layout as described in the text and used in R&D projects.
e A3 in Developing R&D inking • 73
PURPOSE OF THE A3
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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