Harness the A3 problem solving template to effectively solve problems
We recently explored the way visual thinking can be used on Conceptboard, so now we’re taking it a step further and look at how visual thinking can be used to collaboratively solve problems using a methodology pioneered by Toyota and presently used worldwide by practitioners of lean sigma: the A3 problem solving template.
Visual thinking is a great way to unlock creative potential. Our brain’s capacity to hold visual elements is huge, so when you start thinking visually you are able to tap into an extensive resource that feels effortless. And dare we say it, fun!
Similarly, solving problems as a team enables you to collectively harness the knowledge, experience and ideas of the whole team. By tapping into this collective knowledge to draw them out you bring the team together in a shared experience. Visually mapping out problems offers us the chance to see all the possibilities, instead of blindly focusing on the most obvious or most common. This helps to identify the root cause of the problem, not just the symptoms.
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The A3 problem solving template to drive continuous improvement
The basis of the A3 problem solving template is collectively mapping out a flow chart to break down complex processes, and highlighting the flaws in the system. From there, teams need to re-do the chart, highlight the key changes they need to make to improve the system. Then, create a plan of attack to implement those changes. It is a simple way to get everyone on the same page to visually solve problems. Remote or co-located teams can easily collaborate in real time on an A3 template using Conceptboard’s simple template featuring a rectangular space broken into four quadrants.
To get started, book a meeting time (at least an hour) for your team and send them a link to the collaborative board. Then, conduct the problem solving session in four simple steps:
- Detail the problem you are trying to solve in the top left quadrant.
- In the next quadrant underneath, as a team, illustrate the problem as a system including steps and links. You can do this using the pen, sticky notes, graphics or images. Then talk about each step as a group and give each step a general rating as to how well it’s functioning. This should result in a frame of reference of the current state of the system.
- In the third quadrant, again as a team, draw a visual map of the target state: that is what the ideal system would look like. You can highlight areas of focus where you want to try and do things differently, and what the intended results will be.
- Comparing these two visual maps, you should now be able to assess what actions need to be taken to achieve the target state. List these in the final quadrant.
To make sure the list is actionable, detail Who, will do WHAT, by WHEN.
Once you have completed the four quadrants and an actionable list, make sure you send the link to the shared file to all stakeholders or involved team members. You could also export it in PDF form and print it on an A3 sheet once you are done filling it out.
The A3 methodology is extremely powerful as it enables you to synthesize different points of view into one manageable approach. This will create a shared understanding of the problem, as well as the effects it has on different departments within the business. If you want to learn more about how collective visual thinking can be used, watch this great TED Talk by Tom Wujec.