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Within the context of project teams, A3s tend to be development and decision-making instruments specific to a particular project. As many have likely experienced, many of the problems solved and lessons learned on a project are not sufficiently captured and disseminated to others in a company, let along others on current or future project teams. As Lean project teams develop skill and consistency in applying A3 method for project up, organizational down, and retrospective problem solving and decision making, the A3 also presents a convenient vehicle for capturing and sharing that developed knowledge.

In a persistent organization – whether that be the construction owner, a design or construction partner or consultant – developed A3s can become the source of organizational learning and knowledge transfer between teams and working groups. Each individual A3 represents the learning and knowledge creation of a portion of a team for a specific problem statement. As teams solve for specific problems, if the sponsoring organization (for example a serial builder construction owner), can create a data bank for recording, cataloging, and making available to other team members the knowledge contained within each A3, then we can use the knowledge created across teams and project to leverage solutions previously developed to help us not have to spend as much time and effort solving those same things again.

Creating a catalog of developed A3s can be as simple as an online shared spreadsheet that is indexed and searchable by keyword or category and importantly is linked to the source a3 documents and contact information for champions and collaborators for further questions. This can also grow in sophistication to purpose-built applications. The bigger challenge is creating an environment where team members seek out this information. While this can come down to individual mentoring, in many distributed project-oriented organizations, we are trying to encourage this learning across an often broader internal and external group if individuals. To support this, we need to connect our shared A3 library, with communication and behavioral strategies, and the space/capacity that encourages team members to take the extra time to share their innovations or seek to find what has been shared be others before starting down a new path.

We’ve had significant success in the past with organization focused communities of practice where key project team members periodically check in to share new developments in A3s, share retrospectives, and have a forum for asking questions of each other. One approach to this was a shared Google Sheets log (searchable, sortable, filterable), combined with an asynchronous communications tool (e.g. Teams chat, slack, etc) and a standing monthly web conference where attendees were encouraged to ask, share and learn.

Figure 1- Simple A3 Log with Search and Links to Source A3s

The typical monthly call would be only 60-90 minutes with an agenda that allowed for general news and updates, open discussion and questions and key presentations on newly developed A3s. The combination of live interaction with shared on-line resources allowed teams to participate in and contribute to the overall learning environment across project and company lines.

While giving broad access to the learning contained in A3s, this approach also helps onboard new Lean learners to the ‘how-to’ of A3 method itself. By having access to many A3s and A3 champions/collaborators, someone new to A3 can quickly pick up on better practices and approaches to effective collaboration and information presentation.

Another feature of A3 learning in a persistent organization is revision management. While many A3s developed on projects don’t necessarily benefit from the retrospective step (Check-Adjust from PDCA), when we look at the life of an A3 across projects, this becomes a lot more practical and beneficial. A newer project team may utilize a previously developed A3 but determine that the current state in their environment may not align, or the previous solution did not deliver all the expected outcomes. This team will then re-open the A3 and either update with fresh analysis and recommendation or create an alternate proposed solution for differing conditions (where the previous solution may still apply if the original conditions are encountered again).

By implementing this type of shared knowledge access and proactive communities of practice, the A3 methods even for project-based organizations can start to achieve the type of holistic organizational learning which made the A3 ‘Toyota’s Secret’, creating a wide net of knowledge capture and broadcasting, while also applying continuous improvement via PDCA to iterations of A3s themselves.

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Christian Pikel, managing principal and lead coach for The ReAlignment Group, Ltd., brings a unique insight and novel approach to lean/IPD coaching for teams and organizations. His ability to coach, teach and facilitate is defined by a diverse career spanning two decades in the design and construction industry as design/build trade manager, preconstruction and project developer/consultant and then owner for a major healthcare network. This is coupled with Christian’s nine years of experience as student and practitioner of lean construction and engagement with over 30 IPD projects in roles of collaborator, leader and coach. Christian is an LCI Improved instructor and CoreClarity™ Certified Facilitator.