Problem Solving in Manufacturing: How to Use A3 & DMAIC Effectively



problems-solutions2.jpgWithin manufacturing, there is always room to grow and improve. As companies pursue continuous improvement and seek to solve existing problems in their facilities, it helps to have a structured guide pointing the team in the right direction for success and change. This kind of support is provided by A3 problem solving.

Named after the “A-3” sized paper used for documentation, A3 problem solving teaches employees how to rapidly address manufacturing problems, effectively communicate solutions and monitor results. This approach is typically used by Lean manufacturing practitioners to support Kaizen events. When combined with the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) methodology, this technique enables teams to clearly define problems, uncover potential root causes and develop corrective actions to ensure real results. With each step of learning, planning and solving explicitly documented, the final A3 report provides a convenient summary of the completed project.

Going through the entire process, each step involves the following:

Define – What is the opportunity for improvement?
In this first step, the team must determine:  

  1. What is the problem and what improvements could come from this project? 
  2. Why is this problem/opportunity important? Identify why time and effort should be invested into this project. Ideally, this will align with larger company objectives.  

Measure – What is the current performance?
This section defines key metrics in performance that must be tracked and measured, such as:

  • Variation, cost and lead time
  • Work in Process (WIP)
  • Number of people involved
  • Distance traveled or space required
  • Number of handoffs
  • First Pass Yield

Data that is not already known must be gathered. All this information combined provides a current state of the process while making apparent any existing issues or areas for improvement.

Analyze – What is the cause of this poor performance?
Evaluate the process and conduct root cause analysis to identify and verify the problem. This can be accomplished through various problem-solving methods, such as 5-Why or Fishbone Diagrams.

Improve – What improvements must be implemented to eliminate waste and reduce variation?
In this step, the team works to establish and schedule countermeasures to prevent or mitigate the problems identified in the analyze phase. Several Lean Six Sigma tools, including 5S, Standard Work or Kanban, may assist in this improvement process.

Control – How can the results be sustained?
The goal of this step is to determine how improvements will be sustained over time. Ensure all action items are complete and establish new metrics to monitor the changes. The process owner is responsible for making sure the new Standard Work is being followed consistently. Holding weekly meetings with those involved will assist with maintaining accountability.

Together, these five steps create a logical and structured approach to improving processes, with all ideas and actions carefully captured in the A3 report. To understand what this process looks like when applied to a business, read on to see how one of our clients recently completed these steps during their Kaizen event.

  • Define – The company identified inefficiencies in their welding/assembly processes.
  • Measure – The organization sought to increase production to meet increased product goals and sales forecasts. However, as evidenced by their performance metrics, something was holding the team back from achieving this.
  • Analyze – Looking deeper into the process, the team realized too much time was spent making lists to coordinate tasks between departments, and the lists were quickly becoming obsolete each day. The success of the kitting department depended on the ability of the welding department to stay on schedule, which often fell behind.
  • Improve – A visual scheduling process was put in place to coordinate the workflow among departments. Additionally, the concept of a Focused Factory Hot Run Shop was implemented to keep the main production process running while only one team member completed all specialized orders separately.
  • Control – The schedule list now reflects all the latest information in their ERP system. These improvements are projected to generate $5 million in new sales each year and $40,000 in cost savings from a $10,000 investment.

When implemented correctly, A3 problem solving using the DMAIC methodology can resolve any operational problem while promising real results. Learn how The Center can support your next problem-solving project here or contact to speak with our experts now.


Tomlinson_R.jpgRoger Tomlinson, Lean Program Manager
Roger has been a Program Manager at The Center for 18 years. He has trained and mentored hundreds of Michigan manufacturers in the entire portfolio of Lean strategies and methods (e.g., Kaizen events, Standardized Work, 5S/Workplace Organization, Value Stream Mapping, Total Productive Maintenance, Culture Change, Team Building, Operations Management and Process Re-Engineering). In addition to his training and consulting work, Roger has more than 20 years of experience in manufacturing management.


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Categories: Lean Principles