A3 by PowerPoint

aarrgh! all of the purists say! Death by PowerPoint. Yup.

But one of today’s realities is that many managers expect to be “briefed” and expect it to be done in a conference room with a projector and… PowerPoint.

Getting them to sit down and go through a single sheet of A3 paper is going to be a stretch at best. So let me propose an interim.

Five slides, six at the most.

No fancy headings, logos, etc. They take up space and distract from the message.

Simple text. No animation. Pictures, graphs to make the points.

The slides are:

Background / Current Condition

Briefly cover where we are, and why we are talking about this right now.

Back up your assertions with data and facts. Note that, in my context, a “fact” is something you can see, observe, sense, touch. The data must be explained by the facts.


What is this going to look like when we are successful?

The target is binary. It is verifiable as “met” or “not met.” It does not include vague words like “improved” or “reduced” which are subject to interpretation.


What is keeping us from hitting the target right now? What is in the way? What must be solved, what barrier must be cleared, what factor must be eliminated?

Clearly demonstrate that dealing with these issues will allow reaching the target.

Countermeasures / Implementation

What actions will be taken to deal with the issues or shortcomings?

When will they be taken?

Who will take them?

When will they be checked for successful implementation?

For each one, what is the predicted effect if it works as planned?

How will you check the actual effect?

Do the cumulative predicted effects of your countermeasures add up to enough to close the gap and reach the target?

If not, then what else are you going to do?

Results / Follow-Up

What actually happened?

If When things got off track, what is the recovery / correction plan?

If When actual results were different than planned, what else are you going to do?

Did you reach the target? If not, what else are you going to do?

It’s the thinking, not the format!

Do the headers change sometimes? Sure, but the intent is:

What is happening?

What do you want to happen?

What is the gap?

What will you do to get it there, and how will you check that:

  • You did you you planned.
  • It worked like you expected?

Do it.

Check it.

Fix it.



This is a leader’s tool

If it is done well, and done correctly, it is done the way John Shook describes it in his new book Managing to Learn. But don’t confuse the size of the paper with the structure of the thinking. Get that right. Worry about the sheet of paper later if you must.

When encountering resistance, a good teacher knows what things can be left for later, and which ones are critical to get right.

12 Replies to “A3 by PowerPoint”

  1. I think this is a good point. The format should help you to make sure your audience will be understanding your point in the best possible way. I am now busy trying A3 for the first time, so I am not sure yet on how people will react to it. Lets see.

  2. Before I had joined my current firm (General Electric) I had never in my life seen so much on a single Powerpoint slide. It’s actually quite impressive the way managers here are able to cram data into every last square inch of the slide. Coming from the outside, my sparsely populated slides appear flimsy in comparison. Ed Tufte would be so proud!

  3. Totally agree. Powerpoint and electronic formats for that matter are staged, riddled with wasteful information, worse yet window dressing.

    Some of the most inspirational and effective a3s I’ve seen have been filled out in pencil. I heard our sensei say to me once, if you can’t tell the story visually and concisely in 10 mintues, you’re wasting people’s time. Much learning is done when someone lean thinker or manager goes through the rigour of the thinking on paper and pencil, or whiteboard or in any lowtech way. The statement “why can’t you get that scribble into a nice electronic format” should be replaced with “I’m beginning to understand your thinking in your sketched diagram.” So think twice before using so much fluff in a ppt.

  4. As several of you have mentioned, the key to making this work is not so much the format, but the interaction between people. Each should be willing to challenge the other’s thinking.

    But, like in my early post in “the chalk circle” this isn’t about how to format the answers, as much as it is learning to ask the right questions.

    It is the questions that draw out the thinking.

  5. Hmm, Why not use the A3 format on just one powerpoint slide? That’s what I do.

    We’re lucky enough to have A3 printers on our floor so I can print them and show them to the management, along with the very same thing projected. Projection allows you to fingerpoint during your explanations.

    And since you’re sending some small text on a wall, it gets its size increased, so legibility is not a problem…

  6. Sure – if the leaders will accept it on a single slide, that is even better, since it is closer to the ultimate goal.

    I guess I was working with groups that need to be eased into the concept. The structure of the thinking is more important than the presentation, so my message is don’t get TOO hung up on the structure. That can follow.

  7. Yes, I am a purist of the white background…no more than three bullet PowerPoint. Unfortunately, I work in a world where colors seem to captivate senior management and we get paid by the quantity of words on the slide.

  8. We have tried hand drawing the A3 on a really big sheet torn off from a giant roll of paper and posted on the projector screen. It seems to be more interactive than Powerpoint, and presents everything in the same format on “one slide”. It also forces you to carefully choose what goes on the paper instead of cramming everything into it. My $0.02.

  9. Ryan –
    I consider a PowerPoint approach the absolute last resort. It is probably the least effective medium for problem solving.

    But if I can’t get the thinking framed within any other medium, doing it with PowerPoint at least lets the thinking structure get introduced without people getting distracted by the medium of presentation.

    THANKS for the comment.

  10. It would seem to me that if you stick with the “correct” way to construct an A3 and use best practice thinking on how to present visual information (Tufte, Stephen Few, Beyond Bullet points,etc.), that you should be able to give an A3 presentation in PowerPoint. PowerPoint itself is not the problem, poor presentation and teaching skills are.

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