You have probably heard of the A3 method - the tool made famous by Toyota. We have been using A3s at AS&E for about 5 years now and have built up a fairly extensive library of knowledge using them. Along the way we have changed our culture to look for and ask for A3’s. But why A3? What is so powerful and helpful and friendly about the A3?

The A3 forces information to be concise. Who defines concise? The customer of the information - the one seeking the knowledge. This the key feature of the A3. Everyone who is creating knowledge is doing a tremendous amount of work! And they naturally feel that everyone needs to know everything they have learned along the way. In actuality, the customer usually only cares about the outcome - the decision - the final trade-off curve - the knowledge that they need. So through collaborating with the customer, the author learns what knowledge is of real value to the customer and this is what will remain on the A3. This is what will make the A3 a useful source for knowledge in the future.

By refining the knowledge on the A3 to what is really useful to the customer, you encourage customers to look for A3s. A team that is looking for A3s is a team that knows that when they find the knowledge they seek, it will be easy to understand and to use. Prior to the A3, knowledge was scattered everywhere; 33 page Powerpoint presentations; 3Gb FEA analysis; email-reply-reply-reply… When confronting the person you think created the knowledge, they say, “Didn’t you read my report?” I’m sorry, but I just need the decision. I don’t have time to read all your “interesting” information. The succinct nature of the A3 forces the core knowledge, the knowledge that other people will really use, to be easily accessible.

By the way, the A3’s are not always complete. In actuality, if you are doing it right, they are never complete! As a customer encounters an A3, they may find that it does not contain the knowledge they are looking for. No problem. Go get the knowledge and update the A3. Now the A3 is more valuable!

It’s a tough cultural shift. Everyone likes to do things their own way. If you can demonstrate that you don’t need to limit yourself to the A3 - that only the final product is the A3, you can find that happy medium between the work done to create knowledge and the storage and communication of the final, valuable, re-usable knowledge.

For more in depth learning on A3s, check out Understanding A3 Thinking: A Critical Component of Toyota's PDCA Management System by Durward K. Sobek II and Art Smalley