Using Lean A3:s to construct a knowledge platform


Neil Gershenfeld, the head of MIT’s Centre for Bits and Atoms

Digital Fabrication

In a Wired blog article by Olivia Solon on Digital Fabrication, Neil Gershenfeld talks about lego as building blocks enabling children to manufacture a better product than their physical capacity would permit, since the lego is modular and self-correcting.

Knowledge blocks and construction of competence

The lego analogy gave me a vision of a company’s knowledge platform being build by knowledge units, much like the European Union is trying to organize formal education. The challenge would be to make the knowledge components practical and easy to use, which lead me to Lean’s use of A3 documents.

A3:s as construction blocks

In Lean, knowledge is summarized on one sheet of paper in A3 format. It is large enough to get an overview of the whole subject and small enough to transport. Industrial Designers have used the A3 format for decades since it has the right balance between detail and practicality.

The remaining challenge is to connect the A3:s with some indexing system – there is always the possibility to use engineering’s tried methods for numbering drawings but something more graphic or visual would be a perfect fit.


Continuous Improvement a group exercise


photo by “I woz here” Flickr CC

Seeing is believing, there is a definite strength in being able to demonstrate a concept like continuous improvement and having fun at the same time.


Hi Julie, the goal was to produce as many balloon dogs as possible during each 5-10 min iteration. We used an instruction video from YouTube as initial instructions and the team had to use the Toyota Kata improvement board when they reflected on the result after each round.

Typically for a group of 8 I would provide four handpumps and lots of balloons – at the end of the session the whole room would be full of balloon dogs and many participants brought them home for their kids.

The objective was to show the effect of continuous improvement as well as the power of a self-organizing work team, therefore I gave as few instructions as possible beyond showing the YouTube video and three slides from Mike Rothers website on the improvement board. On purpose I avoided making my own instructions so that the participants could see that they could have found the resources as well.

We’ve had great fun in every session and when the balloons are of bad quality (which sometimes happens if you buy them at Toys are us) they break often and people laugh even more. It is important not to overfill the balloons… one of the critical success factors that the teams identify during the exercise.

Have fun!

How to Improve Business Results


Photo by Carlos Lemes Flickr CC

The purpose of a business is to convert raw materials in such a way that clients are willing to pay for the transformation. But, that is not enough – you have to find the potential clients, guide them to your business, help them chose, pay and receive what you offer. This guidance of your clients is sometimes called the marketing funnel.


The marketing funnel can be seen as a chain of events, and every chain has its weakest link. Every business has its own funnel, this is how “Conversion Rate Experts” describe a generic example:
    * Your advertising
    * Your sales force
    * Your homepage
    * Your product pages
    * Your checkout pages
    * Your order confirmation page
    * Your call center staff
    * How the package is sent out


Between every step in the marketing funnel you will lose a number of people, or money if you want. It’s just as in the supermarket, you look at much more products than you put into the basket. Sometimes you will even take things out of the basket on your way to the check-out line. When you do put things back, it is a loss in the grocer’s marketing funnel.


Its a dramatic improvement if you can manage to have only 8 out of 10 leave empty-handed if your normal rate is 9 – actually your business will double.


The secret is to find the step where you have the highest losses. That step is the weakest link and the only one you are interested in improving. To strengthen a link, other than the weakest, will not make the chain stronger.

Be an Optimist for the day


Great accidents happen, “force majeur” events like earthquakes, lightning strikes and storms are of a magnitude and impact outside control. But, excluding these disasters, you really get what you deserve and it all comes down to your outlook on life – if you are a optimist, realist or pessimist.


If you beleive that bad things are bound to happen, you are right, they will. The important thing is how you react to them. Stress is not caused by the event itself but by your reaction to it.

When you start to avoid problems, you also start to defend what you have. Only playing defence is a strategy that will make you say no to new opportunities. And, as things sometimes go wrong, over time you will lose some of the things you have achieved without using new opportunities to replace them – your world shrinks.


The only really important time is now – it is the only one we live in. To be a “realist” you plan for future bad events, things like paying insurance. This is very good within reason. The problem is defining what is reasonable.

The problem with the future is that it is very fluid, things change all the time. If you can manage to not become emotionally drained by preparing for possible disasters you might have a good recipee for a successful life. But the optimist have more fun.


The ancient recipee for happiness is to live in the present, to recognize the oppportunities and act in the moment. To have a strategy is a “realist’s” trait, but the warriors of old saw it only as a preparation, not something dictating your actions. The optimist is more opportunistic, less bogged down by doubt, more directed towards action.

As well-being goes, nothing beats “positive action”. To feel a bit down and then do something makes the clouds go away. The optimist will go through a happier life, looking for new opportunities and through that find new adventures.

Knowledge Management And Writing Business Reports

With the use of social networks, Wikis, Lotus Notes and other tools for cooperation, there is a great risk that the basic skills of how to write a business report is being lost.


Photo by Peter Denton Flickr CC


In a well working company or society, each generation stands on the shoulders of their forefathers. What this means is that knowledge is not lost, that it is documented and retrievable. Sounds easy but it’s not. The art of building a collective memory is a huge challenge, at the same time it is crucial for creating value and “invisible”.

The “invisible” part is risky. If you don’t do the work, very few will notice at first and thus it is not rewarding. There is no individual and immediate Return on Investment, but failure to build knowledge transforms the company into a stumbling beginner in all areas and all the time.


To make a report efficient, the readers expect a certain structure leading up to clear and brash recommendations at the end. These are the most common sections:

1. Title Section. Could be just the front cover or include Terms of Reference, Table of Contents and so on.

2. Summary. Give a clear and very concise account of the main points, main conclusions and main recommendations. Keep it very short, a few percent of the total length. Some people, especially senior managers, may not read anything else so write as if it were a stand-alone document. Write it last, but do not copy and paste from the report itself.

3. Introduction. Use one sentence for each idea, maximum four sentences to build a paragraph and a thought. The first few words has to make your readers interested, you have to earn your right to their attention. Explain why the report is important and how it is structured.

4. Main Body. Here you state the facts of what you have found about “the problem”. It might well be structured in sections and sub-sections with subtitles. Write things in order of priority and you could include a “Discussion” section where you present different points of view and interpretations of the data.

5. Conclusions. Present the logical conclusions. Offer options for the way forward. Many people will read this section. If you have included a discussion then this section may be quite short.

6. Recommendations. What do you suggest should be done? State your recommendations in order of priority.

7. Appendices. Heavy details go here, information for the specialists. Tony Atherton suggests that “As a guide, if some detail is essential to your argument then include it in the main body, if it merely supports the argument then it could go in an appendix”.

Manage by Tracking Progress

Positive feedback is so much better than destructive criticism.


Photo by goldenfish2010 Flickr CC


Everything from circus bears and goldfish to you yourself can be effectively trained by positive feedback. Did you know that the current champion goldfish masters 17 games?

The way it is done is by giving yourself a small reward at every step on the way, slowly building up the whole sequence of events. For example a bear that plays basketball, when he turns towards the hoop he gets a small reward. Later when he touches the ball he gets a reward, then when he pushes the ball towards the hoop – a new reward, etc. Little by little, by positive reinforcement they learn to do the most amazing tricks. You can use the same technique on yourself and those you manage.


Everyone has a bad day, something goes bad and you feel worthless. Imagine that you had a file with some notes of your daily small victories, just opening your file with positive snapshots you would start to feel better – a little bit like the goldfish making a move in the right direction and getting a small tidbit, a positive reward.

Now imagine that your manager asked you to share your positive snapshots, wouldn’t that be more fulfilling than looking for weak areas and establishing corrective action? If you are managing others, why not use the same principles as a group. By now someone is sure to say, wait a minute! We’re not circus animals, this is offending! And they would be right of course, still this is the way a good sports coach work, and most other coaches for that matter.


If you know your goals and values, and if they are in the same directions as the company’s, then what is good for you is also good for the people around you.

Personally I keep a daily journal that I call my victory list, I also recommend it to anyone with a quest or a purpose. It keeps me motivated and boost my confidence. I also feel very good when I manage to boost the confidence and motivation of those working with me – to me it is one of the success factors of Open Management.


Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:

Sow a thought, reap an action.
Sow an action, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a character.
Sow a character, reap a destiny.

By reinforcing positive action, by making clear the positive consequences of a what was just done, by identifying the keys to success that brings both the individual and the company forward towards common goals can’t be bad. 

Follow the fewest possible


Photo by Torley Flickr CC


What you focus will be resolved. It is easy to get carried away and try to get into every detail, but it will not be beneficial to the organization. The trick is to start from the strategy and find very few Key Performance Indicators (KPI:s) to follow on a relevant scale. The ideal is one, never more than three.

If your machines break down three hours at a time, there is no sense in following stoppage on a 5 minute level. First you map the frequency of three hours stops, when they are resolved you start to follow one hour stops – and so on.


Figures have to be given a context, they have to be compared or explained, there are several ways of doing that:

  1. Compare the figures to historical data.
  2. Compare the figures by benchmarking with competition or other inspirational sources.
  3. Insert the figures into a larger context as for example the Du Pont structure for ROE and ROI.


A picture is really worth more than a thousand words. For those who work every day with numbers it is easy to remember if a certain figure going down translates into heaven or hell, but to engage everyone else the communication has to be clearer. Here are some suggestions:

  • Use an excel dashboard (some suggestions can be found here).
  • Put a smiley green face beside a good result, a yellow straight face when there is no evolution and a red sad face beside a bad outcome.
  • Put a red arrow pointing in the direction of worsening results when you prepare a diagram and a green in the positive direction.
  • Add a line, in your diagram, with the best result achieved as a reminder of what has been possible to accomplished in the past.