Reading In Reverse

Reading in Reverse

By: Ronette Kersting


A3’s are a simple problem-solving tool. They provide a standardized methodology to understand and respond to problems. What is most powerful however, is that A3 problem solving helps make the thinking process visible. If done correctly, an A3 is more than a “fill in the boxes” exercise, it should begin with thinking (not writing) and end by triggering conversation and learning.

When given a problem to solve, some people race to find the solution quickly. Yet the nature of A3 thinking requires carefully framing the problem, root-cause-analysis, rigorous data analysis, and problem analysis. If done correctly, this approach avoids a common A3 hazard…jumping to conclusions.  One method utilized at Toyota to ensure that comprehensive A3 thinking is utilized is to “read the A3 in reverse.” This concept requires reading the A3 backward thus validating the PDCA process. Typically, we review the A3 from left to right.  The left side of the A3 includes:

  • Background
  • Current Conditions
  • Targets/Goals
  • Analysis

The right side of the A3 includes:

  • Proposed Countermeasures
  • Implementation Plan
  • Follow Up

Reading left to right is natural and typically tells a logical story however reading in reverse (right to left) is a good check mechanism to validate the thinking logically. Do the countermeasures and results link back to the A3 purpose and gap?  If yes, you can successfully “walk back” the thought process and successfully pass the cause-and-effect logic between the PDCA steps in both directions.  If no, one of the following conditions may have occurred.

  • Jumped to a solution, only solving a symptom
  • A3 was based on assumptions and opinions
  • Failed to “Go and See” at the Gemba
  • Failed to engage with the people doing the work

For effective problem solving, you cannot just “go through the motions.”  Sometimes you might get lucky, but luck is not sustainable.  If you are willing to invest the time, A3 thinking is a way of leading and learning simultaneously. Some argue that good problem solving is not about having all the right answers but practicing a useful and well-understood approach to thinking and learning. It is OK to not have all the answers, and instead, learn together, building mutual trust and respect.  After all, this is a critical step toward creating a problem-solving culture.

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