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7 Common Ways to Fail at PDCA

PDCA

The powerful thinking strategy PDCA forms the basis of sustained business success. Plan – Do – Check (also Study) – Act (also Adjust) is the continuous improvement cycle, also known the Deming Wheel or the Shewart Cycle. If you do not understand PDCA and apply this in your business, you’re leaving significant productivity and performance gains on the table.

PDCA is not always applied correctly; here are seven common ways to fail at PDCA.

  1. Plan, Plan, Plan: Caught up in Gantt charts and project plans, we tend to go into ever more detail to cover off the eventualities. To counter this, adopt the Kiwi attitude and ‘have a go.’ Even if the start is careful, make sure you start the work, evaluate its effect, and then return to planning to tweak and adjust. Improve from there.
  2. Do, Do, Do: the first gap the action heroes fall in, firefighting and expediting their business to ‘success’. No time to reflect, no time to plan. “You can’t plan in a business like ours.” Instability and variability follow. To counter this, discuss the plan even if it only covers 30% of your day. That means 30% less reactive! Do the work and institute Short Interval Control (another form of Check) to make adjustments on the fly. You’re back into PDCA again.
  3. Check, Check, Check: the trap of paralysis by analysis, constantly waiting for the next bit of data to come in that may affect our decision-making. Too scared to make the wrong decision. But PDCA is about improvement: a ‘wrong’ decision will be corrected in the next round of PDCA, so trust the process. Make the adjustment and re-set the plan.
  4. Plan-Do, Plan-Do: the second gap for the action heroes. Never reflecting, never sure of performance, never asking if we have hit our objectives, and if not, why not. Rinse and repeat tomorrow with, unsurprisingly, the same results. Use your DMS to pause and reflect and take action where you have gaps. PDCA again.
  5. Plan-Do-…-Adjust: a failure to check, to pause and reflect. We act without understanding cause and effect. We’re addressing symptoms at best; guessing a way forward at worst. Unsurprisingly, tomorrow we get the same results. Instead, problem-solve the gaps based on data from your DMS, then raise the actions.
  6. Plan-Do-Check-Inaction: we fail to assign an action after a Check, or we assign an action and fail to complete it because we lack accountability processes. Only the completion of an action will create an improvement, assign this in your DMS.
  7. Plan-Do-Check-Abandon: the revolutionary’s gap. We have not achieved our goal and we abandon our approach wholesale, rather than asking the question: what is exactly wrong with what? We act bold and as if we’re in control. But rather than addressing the specifics, we walk away and say: “that did not work.”

When applied well, PDCA is the most valuable mental model you can apply to your business undertakings, your personal goals, your everything. There are no short-cuts. If you wonder which one of the four PDCA steps is most important, check out these quotes that tell you all four steps are important.

Plan: “By failing to plan, you’re planning to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

Do: “Any damn fool can make a plan – it’s the execution that screws you up.” – Henry Mintzberg

Check/Study: “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” – Albert Einstein

Act/Adjust: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” – Stephen Hawking

About the author: Geerten Lengkeek is the Managing Director of Productivity People