There are appropriate and inappropriate applications for A3s (see To A3 or Not to A3). But that does not mean that the use of A3s — mindset and form of thinking — is limited. To the contrary, we find it has great breadth, leading us to new applications every day at Goodyear. We have been using A3s within Goodyear R&D since 2008 when John Shook wrote Managing to Learn. Ever since we found our stride with A3s we’ve trained our teams to a consistent but open-ended A3 approach. The freedom to explore the format has led to new and exciting applications.
We use the terms “learning cycles” or “iterations” to define the logical chunks of product development work at which progress can be assessed, decisions made, and money allocated. Given the varying durations of projects (weeks to years), breaking work into small comparably sized iterations helps us plan and maintain flow of work. As innovators, each project — and each iteration — must move us creatively forward.
The iteration A3 helps us to identify the current state of knowledge related to a tire project, where we want to get to (the objective or hypothesis for the iteration), how we plan to get there (describe the experiment), and what we hope to achieve (anticipated outcomes and the gap that the experiment will close). Engineers plan and run their experiments, log the actual outcomes on the A3, compare outcomes to the hypotheses, and document the lessons learned: was the experiment even necessary, did we acquire new knowledge with the experiment (even if we didn’t close the gap), do we need another iteration/experiment, is our process working well enough?
The terminology used is quite different from a traditional A3, but the underlying objectives of the format are the same: We use it to solve design problems, as a means for engineers to efficiently and effectively communicate the status of projects, and to build collaboration among those involved in the product-development value stream.
One additional outcome of iteration A3s, though, is a bit different and incredibly valuable to Goodyear: We developed a database of iteration A3s, store them electronically, and make them available via a SharePoint site. Engineers can search hundreds of A3s on common criteria to see if the knowledge they need for a project already exists, and move forward with a project knowing the best information is currently available within Goodyear.
The knowledge documented on the A3 also will help us develop a better and faster development and learning process. We learn when an iteration or learning cycle is needed and how to best design and execute experiments.
When pushing the boundaries of creativity, it’s not unusual to run into design problems where there may be no known solutions or even predictable solutions. For work on these types of R&D projects, our Luxembourg innovation center has begun to combine the A3 format with well-known methods to enhance creativity. One method — TRIZ (also called “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving”) — was invented in Russia by science-fiction author Genrich Altshuller more than 50 years ago. TRIZ spawned similar approaches, including ASIT, SIT, and SCAMPER (substitute, combine, add, multiply, put to different use, eliminate, reverse).
SCAMPER is combined with A3 thinking when more creative countermeasures are desired, with the creative method guiding an A3 owner through a series of prompts. For example, an A3 that deals with the problem of tire hydroplaning (water on a road causes a tire to lose contact with the road) could result in the following responses to prompts:
- Substitute — Use a carpet instead of the tire tread.
- Combine — Join a tire and a windshield wiper.
- Add — Add fan blades to blow the water away.
- Multiply — Use two or three tires in place of one.
- Put to different use — Use the tire as a floatation device.
- Eliminate — Eliminate all sharp angles in the tread pattern as they could impede flow.
- Reverse — Run the tire backward
Engineers quickly go through the prompts, and rapidly develop a list of dozens of ideas. They then rate the ideas using on a three-point scale for effectiveness at solving the problem, originality, and feasibility. The few ideas with the highest scores (ideally a 3/3/3 score) are documented on the A3 and turn into design experiments.
The evolution of Goodyear A3 usage could not have occurred without an ongoing effort to educate engineers to A3 thinking and the benefits of A3 thinking. We did this because we needed to convert engineers from constant firefighters (quickly solve a problem and jump to the next) to practical problem solvers with lasting solutions, to what used to be repetitive problems. A3s enabled us to immediately expose new hires to a solid problem-solving approach (many are not taught problem solving in academia or in their previous organizations). A3s also help seasoned engineers (and R&D) gain alignment across our functions, as well as manage up through the organization — A3s are a powerful way for engineers to submit proposals and gain support across the enterprise, especially as A3s become a language that is well understood within Goodyear.
We teach A3 thinking based on Managing to Lean (MTL), and break it down into three phases:
- Individuals prepare for the A3 training by reading MTL.
- Trainees bring a problem to the class. During the first session they work on the problem and focus on the left side of the A3. They then go back to their work, go to the gemba to observe the current state and more deeply understand their problem. In a subsequent session they fill in the right side of the A3.
- Trainees report-out their progress in the final session, sharing their A3 with the class.
A3 training has penetrated Goodyear to the point where most new hires and existing engineers have been exposed to A3s. Most important, it’s not seen as a “tool” but a way of thinking. Many engineers could not have envisioned how they would have attacked their problems without using A3 methodology and A3 thinking. A3s have enabled Goodyear to efficiently capture and reuse knowledge, freeing R&D capacity to develop new R&D capabilities.
Given the demand for A3 training, we now have incorporated “train the trainer” sessions to develop A3 instructors, coaches, and mentors. Our next A3 impetus is to further develop and expand usage among Goodyear leadership.
We want Goodyear leaders to be a team of coaches that manages talent, asks the right questions (instead of dictating answers), and takes a gemba-based approach to problem solving throughout R&D. Associate development comes from individuals owning problems and being allowed and encouraged to formulate creative solutions. The A3 process at a leadership level is transformational — it supports our culture, builds lean competencies and capabilities in associates, and empowers engineers to attack product development challenges of a much higher complexity than we see in today’s products.
Goodyear has expanded where and how it uses A3 thinking. Where has your organization found new ways to examine and solve problems with A3s? What types of problems is your company tackling with A3 thinking?