Stop Action Planning.
Start Results Planning!

By Martin Carignan, Principal Associate

Published on 2021-01-25

Action plan versus problem solving

Some leaders, when there is a gap in performance, tend to ask for an action plan from their subordinate so they can be comforted with the fact the gap is being addressed.  Unfortunately, some of those action plans don’t deliver the expected results; especially when the causes of the gap in performance are not obvious: we continually add actions hoping that, at some point, something will work. I think key reason why some plans don’t work is the fact the planning activity is flawed:


  • The way the plan is built does not clearly demonstrate the link between actions and the root causes of the gap
  • When planning, we don’t plan on when and how we will check if the plan is working

Closing the gap is a continuous process alternating between PLAN and DO, PLAN and DO, PLAN and DO. This process is unfortunately lacking two other key steps: CHECK and ACT.

If you want to dramatically improve the efficiency of the action plans you get; especially those that are meant to close a performance gap, I suggest you shift your focus, as a leader, from actions only to an opportunity to coach on problem solving by using a standard for problem solving and making the standard visible.  I suggest that, instead of asking for an action plan, you ask for a Problem Solving A3 that will visually display the PLAN-DO-CHECK-ACT steps. An example of such an A3 is presented in this figure:




A3 problem solving with PDCA leads to results planning

Using visual A3 + PDCA tool, it will be easier to:


  1. Make sure the gap in performance is well understood and scoped (problem definition)
  2. Make sure the person responsible of the problem solving process went to the Gemba to understand the situation and get a good understanding of the current situation
  3. See which potential causes were identified and which ones were prioritized and why
  4. Link the solutions suggested in the action plan to the root causes identified earlier and make sure it is clear how the efficiency of the solutions will be checked and by when
  5. Make sure a good check is done for all solutions as well as an evaluation of their overall impact on the gap in performance
  6. Challenge the learning done, if a new standard needs to be created or an existing standard modified and if the solutions are reasonably sustainable


Using the Problem solving A3 instead of just expecting an action plan, in my experience, makes a significant difference on the efficiency in closing gaps and, in addition, allows the leader to develop his people in problem solving since it makes the process visible and consequently challengeable.

Want to learn more?

At Différence, our core expertise is centered on statistic & data science, Lean applications & operational excellence, and… simulation! We can train, coach and help practitioners to learn how to achieve modern multi-paradigm modelling Don’t hesitate to ask for more information by contacting us at