Wednesday 26 March 2014

A3 is to Product KM as After Action Review is to Practice KM

The classic, and most basic, knowledge management process is the After Action Review (AAR). Developed by the Army, this short discussion-based sense-making and knowledge-capture process is a fundamental part of Knowledge Management Frameworks across the globe and across industries.

From the development sector to the financial sector to the oil and gas sector, the AAR, with it's 5 questions, is the core tool for reviewing activity, understanding root cause, and determining action.

However the AAR is not always the ideal tool. It's structure is based around a review of activity, which is fine when you are in an industry where learning is about Activity and about Practice.

It does not work so well for learning about Product.

In a product environment, there is an alternative to the AAR - and that is the A3 report. And it is interesting to see that while the Army uses the AAR, the Air Force (where learning about equipment is paramount) also uses the A3 process.

An A3 report is a process developed by Toyota for reviewing and documenting (in a graphical form) learning about product failures and hiccups.  It looks at one specific problem identified by direct observation or experience, and offers a structure for analysis and resolution. The structure is documented on one side of A3 paper. There are up to 7 steps in the A3 process, and each step is usually described graphically on the paper, with charts, diagrams, photographs, etc.

The steps are as follows
1. Identify a problem or need  - what's the background?
2 Conduct research to understand the current situation 3
3 Conduct root cause analysis (eg through the 5 whys)
4 Develop a "target state"
5 Determine actions or countermeasures to address root causes
6 Create an implementation plan with accountable actions and costs, to get from the current state to the target state
7 Develop a follow-up plan, including preparation of a follow-up report

You can see the link with AAR - steps 1 through 3 are the first 3 questions of the AAR, and steps 5 and 6 in the A3 process are the 4th and 5th questions of the AAR.

A3's are filled in as a reaction to an issue or a problem, rather than as a routine activity. A3's are ideally done by a focus group of 2-3 people from the product development team, who can go to the factory or the workplace to verify the current conditions and the root causes.  A3s can be stored in hard copy in a ring-binder, or online in a lessons management system.

So if you work for a Product-based organisation, then A3s can have a fundamental place within your KM Framework.

For an example of A3 used in a KM context within Product Development, see here.

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