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All On One Page

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

- George Bernard Shawe

It is important to effectively communicate and regularly update any plan that guides an organization. Several decades ago, Toyota pioneered what is now known in the Lean world as A3 Thinking, where the company’s entire plan is shown and updated on one sheet of paper. (A3 is a standard size of the paper, roughly the same as 11” x 17” in the United States.)

There are four general categories of A3s:

  • Problem-solving
  • Proposal
  • Status report
  • Strategic planning

All four follow the same general approach of embedding Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) thinking. Each has a section that compares where you are versus where you want to be that includes clear metrics, a section showing the steps (and status) to accomplish the plan, and a section to check for effectiveness

The A3 does not have a defined format as long as the core components are used. However, it is often beneficial to standardize formats within an organization to improve the efficiency of review. A higher-level A3, such as an A3 containing an organization’s hoshin plan for strategy, will typically spawn lower-level A3s to show specific annual goals and other projects. Some examples of A3s are in the Appendix.

Although it may seem tedious to create an A3 for each project or strategy, the act of creating it generates learning and understanding in itself—one reason the concept is called A3 Thinking. Then, when used as part of a regular review process and posted in a visible area, the A3 becomes a great tool for communication and ongoing project discipline and accountability. I’ll discuss A3s more in the section on execution.