Is it time to rethink A3 in knowledge work?

A3 is a collaborative method for driving improvement by the team. A3 is based on the ability to envisage the future state “by the team” and create plan to bridge the gap with the current state.

According to Complexity Theory and the CYNEFIN model, I believe product development fits in the Complex domain. Please see this video https://vimeo.com/53734972 by Prof. David Snowden talking on Complexity Theory. In Complex Adaptive System it is required to understand carefully the current state, however we should not try to envision the future state which is against A3 thinking.

The reason of the above is that A3 was originated from manufacturing which values predictability and uncertainty control. The carving for having repetitive process is behind locking the future state from upfront.

Product development has characteristics which are non congruent with A3 thinking.

  1. A key to success in product development (PD) is to learn  how to embrace uncertainty.
  2. PD is a Complex system where the team and the system co-evolve based on given constraints (for example technology employed) and within attractors (rewarding system).
  3. In PD practices emerge instead of being dictated or planned for. Such practices are context based. 
  4. The team interacts with the system through safe-to-fail parallel experiments with contradicting purposes.
  5. Every experiment creates knowledge and pave the way for a new one. Nevertheless, at some moment the team shifts from experimentation to “exploitation” to scale its practices.

Prof. Snowden created this ACTION_forms_2013_01_edition to help in experimentation to probe a Complex system.

A3 Thinking was not meant to handle experimentation but instead to create a concrete plan to reach the future state. This thinking is contrary to PD because of the above characteristics.