A3 Thinking on a Whiteboard for Finding Root Causes

Here’s the death to problem solving:
A group of people sitting around a conference table trying to solve a technical manufacturing problem. Only one person in the group has actually seen the problem or defect, and the entire rest of the group hasn’t even seen the process first hand that created it. One person is outspoken of their particular idea, and eventually everyone “agrees” to buy into the argument and we march along with an action plan. This is probably the worst possible way to attack a problem – I call it “Engineering by Consensus.”

Here’s a better way:

  1. Go to the location of the issue.
  2. Roll out a whiteboard on wheels directly to the location of the problem. You do have a whiteboard on wheels, right? I have a whiteboard pre-marked with a fishbone diagram and a whiteboard version of an initial A3 problem solving structure. See the image.
    Problem Solving Board BW
  3. Assemble a cross-functional team. The team members must include at least one person directly involved with the process (like the operator or at a minimum the leading technician), and preferably someone from outside the functional area to bring in outside ideas.
  4. First agree on the background condition, current state, and preliminary goal/target condition. Be sure to physically handle and see the actual defect you are dealing with. If you need to, move the group to the appropriate inspection equipment (microscopes, measurement equipment, etc.). Note if you are not familiar with A3 thinking, there are many fantastic resources available to you. I would recommend Mike Osterling or Gemba Academy. (If you are also a worthy A3 trainer, consultant or resource, let me know.)
  5. Next, go through a detailed Process Map of the process in question. One of these days, I’ll go into greater depth of how I do this with my team, but the basic idea is that a Process Map shows not only the basic manufacturing steps, but also the inputs and the outputs to each of those steps. Note this is not to be confused with a flow chart, nor a Value Stream Map. Detailing out the inputs and outputs to the process is an amazingly effective way to understand a process.
  6. Next move on to the Fishbone Diagram with the team. Leave no stone unturned. Again there are many resources available for good fishbone diagrams out there if you haven’t done one before.
  7. Finally, after you have gone over your fishbone diagram and process map, you can prioritize the items you think are the most likely causes to your defect. You can get fancy and rank the potential root causes, and there are tools and techniques to do this, but just going over the items you identify on your fishbone diagram and highlighting them with a different color marker is fine.
  8. Finally, sketch out the experiment plans to truly identify the root cause of your problem.
  9. From there, it’s a matter of follow-through using the A3 approach.

Let me know what you think!!

13 thoughts on “A3 Thinking on a Whiteboard for Finding Root Causes

  1. Satish Kalokhe says:

    This is a perfect way to solve the problem involving process owners. It is advisable to involve operator from the previous process which gives the input to the process where problem has occured.

  2. Sue-Ann says:

    This is what we try to do with most problem solving – we may not follow such a neat format but try to incorporate the major steps. Whiteboards, or something similar to write on form the basis of most of our discussions – on the floor at the source of the problem with all involved. We then have a direction/plan to follow that all can see and we can come back to update our progress or redirection. Works most effectively when we follow this process rather than verbal discussions that are interpreted several different ways with several different results!

  3. Satish Kalokhe says:

    It is always advisable to solve problem where it is generated and so A3 on movable white board is very good idea. I suggest to involve operator from the previous process and next process of the process having problem.

  4. David Schmieder says:

    What size whiteboard is ideal for this action? Big enough to demostrate the lesson, but small enough for portability…

    • Rob Connelly says:

      I’ve been using a board approximately 6′ and I feel it is too short. It really comes down to your processes though. If you have complicated processes, then your process map area may become too small for your needs. This is generally the most constrained area of the board. A board 8′ in length might be better. Hope it helps!

  5. Ed Anderson says:

    You can purchase 4′ x 8′ sheets of medium density fiberboard, 1/8″ thick, with dry erase paint on one side. Cost? Go to Lowes or Home Depot and you will pay less than $15 per sheet. Who can’t afford these? And while mobile white board is a great idea, why not install these cheapie boards anywhere and everywhere? Everybody likes to communicate by drawing a picture, and they can be used for a multitude of charting and/or problem solving. My construction clients “paper” their walls with these.

  6. Anup Gandhi says:

    I coach A3 thinking to my client teams through actual problem cases in their Gemba.
    A3 Sheet White board on wheel right in the workplace is really novel idea. I am going to try it.

Comments are closed.