Solving issues, particularly complicated ones, requires not just accurate problem formulation but also an organized method to supplement it.

Structured Problem Solving is merely an iterative sequence of formulating hypotheses and evaluating them via controlled experiments that has been adapted for the complexities of the real world.

Structured Problem Solving is a formal, logical, and systematic technique to arranging the thought processes of humans.

To assist us solve an issue in an organized manner, our method, i.e., a logical framework, must break the problem down into smaller, more manageable parts.

There are several frameworks for Problem Solving, including Root Cause Analysis (RCA), 8 Disciplines (8D), Fishbone (or Ishikawa) Analysis, and Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), among others. It is far more important to ensure that a Structured Problem Solving approach is employed to handle difficulties than to examine the precise method to apply.

Toyota's A3 Form is one of the most ubiquitous Problem Solving approaches adapted in many sectors throughout the world.  By condensing the Structured Problem Solving exercise into a single sheet, Toyota devised the A3 Form to facilitate knowledge-sharing throughout its operations.

Using a hybrid approach to Problem Solving, a team of consultants has changed this form to make it industry-agnostic.  A number of businesses have used Toyota's A3 Form to tackle challenges in settings other than manufacturing.

This hybrid method to Problem Solving is both basic and effective.  The Modified A3 technique to Structured Problem Solving consists of 6 steps.

  1. Problem Statement
  2. Current Design
  3. Root Causes
  4. Target Design
  5. Goals & Leadership Guidelines
  6. Execution Plan 


Each primary step is followed by a subsidiary phase.  Even if there is supporting material, restricting the project overview to a single page forces users to be extremely precise in their reasoning.

Let's go a bit more into some of the steps of this Problem Solving approach.

Problem Statement

The 1st phase of the Modified A3 Structured Problem Solving approach is to formulate a specific Problem Statement.  Background information for every problem is crucial; thus, adequate information should be included to clearly tie the Problem Statement to the larger mission and objectives.

Current Design

The next phase of the A3 method is to document the current design of the process by seeing the task being performed in person.  People, in general, and those who perform repetitive work on automated processes in particular, find it difficult to accurately describe how they accomplish their tasks and the nature of the challenge they confront.  It is the manager's responsibility to thoroughly supervise the work of such individuals and investigate the source of the problem, as the individuals themselves are incapable of doing so.

Root Causes

Examining Root Causes and using Conscious Processing by relating the observations to the Problem Statement is the third phase.  All Root Cause techniques are intended to help understand how the identified problem is anchored in the Current Design of the work system.

Target Design

Using the Target Design section of the A3 Form, the next step is to recommend an upgraded system to fix the issue.  The modification to the work system may require a simple or complex series of procedures.  Rarely will the needed adjustments constitute a whole new program or endeavor.  Changes must be clear, well-targeted modifications resulting from the Root Cause investigation.

Interested in learning more about Structured Problem Solving: Modified A3?  You can download an editable PowerPoint on Structured Problem Solving: Modified A3 here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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