Every new project can benefit from some thoughtful action that makes sure it’s going to accomplish what it needs to. There’s were PDCA comes in. If you’re not using it already, you might be doing something similar. Either way, there’s a lot of value to be gained through an intentional approach to improvement projects.
What is PDCA?
Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) amounts to a standardized form of: plan your idea, test your idea, review the results of the test, and determine the next steps to move the idea forward. It’s a tool for project planning and it can be tailored to meet your organization’s needs. One example of this comes from an article by ASQ that explained how a school district adapted PDCA to four A’s that equated to Plan, Do, Do, Act. It’s not exactly PDCA, but it has helped the district achieve the results they were looking for.
PDCA is also meant to be continuous, as in continuous improvement. That’s why it is sometimes referred to as the Deming Circle. The idea is to repeat PDCA throughout the project to ensure that any necessary changes are implemented and the project doesn’t get too far without taking a pulse check of how things are going.
Look (via PDCA) Before You Leap
In an approach that has enough time to develop, these steps might happen naturally. However, when things need to happen quickly, some of the steps might be overlooked. How often do we need to take action before we’re actually ready? Probably pretty often, but that’s what has to happen. If there’s no action, then nothing happens. Therein lies the rub, as they say.
When we move more quickly than we’re ready to, things get missed. We don’t take the time to think through potential threats to the project. The short list of solution ideas gets narrowed before some ideas are even thought of. When PDCA is part of the process, it’s difficult to skip ahead to a mediocre decision. Worse yet, without it you could end up with a solution that needs to be replaced shortly after it’s implemented. Then you lose all the time and money that went into that solution when you could have instead spent it on a more thorough process like PDCA.
What changes might help your organization use PDCA more effectively?
Think about your team’s culture, the organization’s goals, and how your internal processes fit with the end customer’s experience. How would PDCA strengthen your brand and position in the market?
You may also think about other strategies and tools that have been attempted in the past. What worked and what didn’t? Are there any pitfalls you could avoid by learning from them? Think about this from the perspective of the whole team too and try to understand what they may see as red flags or positive signs. Even better than that, talk to people who worked with those previous attempts and learn first-hand what they thought of them.
Another Word of Caution
PDCA may not always be necessary. For example, a simple project that can be done well quickly probably doesn’t need PDCA. Adding PDCA to such a project can not only waste time, but also turn people against PDCA. Consider this point during implementation and set some guidelines for the types of projects it’s intended for.
Also, it can be dangerous to implement PDCA exactly how it is without taking into account how it will fit with your current state. Sometimes, no changes will be needed and that’s perfectly fine. You may review PDCA and determine that it’s appropriate as is. Other times, the overall goals of PDCA will fit, but the details need to be tweaked to really make sense for your organization, such as in the case of the school district who revised it to Plan, Do, Do, Act.
One way to implement PDCA effectively is to involve a variety of people in a review of it and make changes according to what the group decides. Your teams may have ideas for how to adapt it so it makes the right kind of differences in their projects. Input from the team, the people who will be using PDCA, gives you different perspectives on how it would work and gives your team a chance to share their ideas before it’s officially implemented.
If your organization is new to PDCA, think of its implementation in terms of PDCA itself – plan, do, check act. After a few projects have been completed using PDCA, ask for feedback from the teams. The goal of PDCA is continuous improvement and that applies to its use too, not just the improvement projects it helps people plan.