Lean development strives for knowledge and idea reuse

Lean designers start with a review of the prior knowledge and proven ideas and end with documenting updates of that knowledge or new knowledge.

I have run a simple experiment which measured the effectiveness of knowledge sharing with groups simulating a develop environment. The simple experiment is an open-ended problem that requires problem solving to reach a solution. Knowledge sharing improves the outcome. After teams share ideas and knowledge, their success rate and quality improves by 100%.

A Knowledge A3 is simply knowledge captured on a single page of metric A3 paper (approximately 11 x 17 inches). They provide a vehicle to capture and communicate knowledge across the development organization.  Reusable knowledge A3s written to capture knowledge  take a certain amount of effort to create, but they are worth the effort!


These types of A3s are quite different from the A3s used by many Lean Manufacturing companies to manage a Kaizen used for tracking tasks to move from a current state to a future state.  A Knowledge A3 is less about doing things, and all about documenting important knowledge and learning.

For knowledge and ideas to be reused and improve the development cycle for the next project, ideas and knowledge must be documented, but more importantly, they must be easily found and reused.   The goal is to set up the knowledge pull within the organization. Therefore, the A3s must be put into a knowledge supermarket from which they can be pulled.   (In this case, “pull” is defined as retrieving and reusing knowledge as it is needed or per the demand of the next project).

It is important to take the time to ensure that Knowledge A3 is truly generalized, that it is from a trusted source, and that it is accessible.  These are three important characteristics of a well-functioning knowledge management system.  Toyota did this for many years by creating the “Know-How” database.  It was described in the book The Machine that Changed the World.   It is one example of how a Lean company (Toyota in this case) approached their development process by focusing on knowledge.   The “Know-How” database existed in paper form for decades before Toyota converted it to an electronic system.  Toyota had kept knowledge on everything from door handles to transmissions. The “Know-How” database represented the knowledge, engineering guidelines, and checklists that guided the design process to ensured quality.

Your Knowledge A3s will be focused on your own products, systems, and sub-systems.   The knowledge A3s work for IT systems and IT development just the same.  Knowledge A3s might be about a particular set of user needs or use models.  Alternately, the A3 might be about the architecture of the system itself, or about an important sub-system.   The goal is to document the knowledge so it can be pulled and reused each time a similar system or sub-system is developed.

For entrepreneurs working at a new start up, knowledge reuse is even more important in these cases.  Using prior knowledge to not reinvent the wheel for creating the business or the products certainly speeds up the time to market.

Lean design requires idea and knowledge sharing.

For Lean Development Excelence

Tim Schipper

Author of Innovative Lean Development.


About Timothy Schipper

Author and coach on lean

Posted on March 19, 2013, in Lean, lean development, lean development excellence and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Are their particular technology platforms you prefer for storage of your Knowledge A3’s Tim?

    • Hello Grant. Thanks for the comment on the LEAN Design Excellence blog on Word Press. There are multiple choices for technology for a knowledge library – SharePoint, Google Drive (Docs), Jive Software, etc. The most important feature is that the system should have a great search engine. SharePoint is lacking in the search-ability attribute. Its search engine works well if you tag all of the entries. However, if you want to find something you must then remember or know the tags. SharePoint does have an open search capability – finding things based just on text – but it searches on tags and titles first and then inside of documents (but not all types of documents), and this doesn’t always return the best match. For the best search-ability, I would recommend a library that has a really solid open textsearch engine. This type of search engine will find any match anywhere in the document, and it will also bring the best match to the top of the list. Both Google Drive (Docs) and Jive Software have this feature. There might be other options out there too, but I am not aware of them. Hope this helps. Tim Schipper.

      • Excellent thoughts on Knowledge library Tim. I am really seeing potential in workgroups/teams to have threaded discussions around topics…like Salesforce Chatter, Jive, and Bloomfire….these platforms match human behavior’s much better than a sharepoint heirarchy I find….

      • Grant

        Couldn’t agree with you more. Heiarchial systems require too much overhead to manage and are difficult to use. They also are difficult to navigate and search across. The newer systems you mentioned are preferred for knowledge management. Thanks for sharing your comments.


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