The PDCA (or Shewhart’s cycle) popularized by Edward Deming in the early 1950 is one of the most effective execution, problem solving and continuous learning tools in many organizations’ toolkit. Yet, its practice remains elusive today. Let’s examine it in detail.
First, the plan. How good are the plans you have seen, used or followed? Have many of them been simple task lists rather than plans? A plan is a plan only when ALL of the following questions are answered:
- o Who will do what, when, how, for how much, and why. If you have all this, it’s a plan.
- o Usually the “Why,” the objective – the success criteria – is missing. How many of us perform tasks without knowing why? Just because… This is the key ingredient for a good plan, and for empowering your workforce
Next, let’s do! Follow the plan. If you operate in a highly dynamic environment, you won’t want to plan too far ahead, but you still need a plan. You will also want controls (self-controls maybe) to ensure that the plan was carried out.
Check! If your team carried out its work as planned then you have results. How close are those results to what you expected? The “Why” in your plan will allow you to determine your degree of success. Checking implies that we have established a measurement, a target and a basis for comparison. If the results are disappointing, first ensure that the plan was followed. If it was, then proceed to the next step. If it wasn’t, find out why and deal with that.
Plans do not always deliver as expected, circumstances change, assumptions may have been faulty. If the actual results differ from the expected ones, you will need to adjust your plan, do something differently. This phase of the cycle is a problem solving exercise; understand the causes of any deviation, decide on the solution, and plan the implementation – you now have a revised plan… and the cycle begins again.
What makes the application of this fundamental concept difficult to apply in practice?