A3 Project Management

The A3 project management approach provides a common outline for business improvement projects.  The idea is to put all the information required to manage the project on a single sheet of A3 paper.  This sheet is then used to elicit input and gain consensus, avoiding premature decision making.  It is based on the PDCA cycle.

The A3 plan is flexible in that it changes as the cycle is negotiated, the current stage of the cycle receiving more detailed attention than elements already completed.


The Problem

We need to understand the real cause of the problem, not just the observed issues.  Use the lean problem-solving tools.

Some key questions:

  • Have you identified the real problem?
  • Do you understand what the customer of the process needs?
  • Can you demonstrate the gap between the current condition and the target condition?
  • Did you go into the workplace (gemba) to observe the process and talk to the people who do the work, to be sure that you have a good understanding of the situation?  (Observing the process may be difficult in an office environment).
  • Have you clarified the true business objectives?
  • Did you uncover the correct (i.e. most meaningful) information to support the analysis?  You will need widespread agreement on the cause of the problem.
  • Have you isolated the root causes of the main components of the gap?
  • Have you captured this material in the most true and concise manner, i.e. in a way which identifies the true problem, invites analytic questions and suggests direct countermeasures?

It is important to break the process into its component parts and to measure separately the impact of each component.

Include both a current state process map and a future state map.

Proposed countermeasures

Use the term countermeasures rather than solutions to emphasise that improvement will be ongoing and this will not be a final, fixed solution.

Keep an open mind and try to build a set of alternative countermeasures.  Delay selecting one until consensus is achieved.  All options should be evaluated and the decision taken as late as possible, when in possession of the fullest possible set of facts.

Key questions:

  • Have you explored every reasonable alternative countermeasure?
  • Have you produced useable alternatives based on constructive conversations with everyone doing the work?  With the customers of the process?  Other stakeholders?
  • Can you show how your proposed plan will address the root causes of the performance problems.
  • Can you justify why your proposed actions are necessary?
  • Have you continued to go to gemba to gather new information and countermeasures?
  • Is there consensus on the proposed countermeasures?


Any A3 must be developed with an awareness of context: if there is a wider corporate plan, the A3 must fit into it  and contribute to it.  Are there other projects upstream or downstream?  They must be compatible.

Key questions

  • Has problem solving shifted from quick fixes to root-cause countermeasures?
  • Does the current A3 reflect the input of key people involved in the work?
  • Do you see where your A3 fits in with those of colleagues above and below you?
  • Has the A3 continued to evolve through consent iteration as a result of experimentation with initially proposed countermeasures?
  • Are you using the PDCA cycle to implement the plan and to gather knowledge from experiments?

Tools for preparing A3 project plans

Current ConditionCurrent-state map
Tally Sheet
Control Chart
HistogramPareto Chart
AnalysisControl Chart
Tree Diagram
Fishbone Diagram
Pareto Chart
Influence Diagram
Scatter Chart
Proposed CountermeasuresDiagram
Evaluation Matrix
ChartSketchFuture-State Map
PlanGantt Chart


What do we mean by Consensus?

Consensus does:

  • Recognise the problem owner
  • Who has submitted a reasonable approach (A3) that:
    • Reflects the engagement with, thoughts and reasonable concerns of all stakeholders
    • who agree to support the problem owner to achieve success

Consensus does not:

  • Mean unanimity
  • Mean majority rule


Monitor progress – use a Gantt chart.  Watch for unforeseen consequences: was the original analysis correct?  Be prepared to back out of the change if something is clearly wrong.


Use the same measurements that were used to justify the change.  Has it delivered the expected benefits?  If not, why not?


  • Make necessary changes to process documentation
  • Broadcast the change and benefits realised

If the expected benefits were not realised, can adjustments be made to improve the situation?

PDCA cycle

The A3 plan as a PDCA storyboard

The A3 plan can be considered to be a PDCA storyboard (see PDCA page).

There are no fixed formats for A3 plans, but the following points should be observed:

  • The plan should be adjusted for the type of story being told (e.g. addressing a quality problem or a corporate strategy issue)
  • All four steps of the PDCA cycle must be represented
  • Fit it onto one A3 page
  • Don't resort to tiny text - use graphics to convey the message (charts, flow diagrams, rich pictures)
  • Make sure that the story flows


1. Background - what are you talking about and why.

2. Current conditions: where do things stand now?

3. Goals/targets

4. Analysis: why does the problem or need exist?

5. Recommendations: what do you propose to do and why?

6. Plan: how will you implement?

7. Follow-up: How will you know your plan has worked?

8. How will you communicate/propagate the improvements?


A more detailed description of the structure of an A3 plan may be downloaded here: