I got inspired to write this blog about PDCA, after listening to my Daily Live Session from last Wednesday. PDCA cycle, introduced by Walter Shewhart and later applied and made popular by W. Edwards Deming, the father of quality, is also known as Deming Cycle. In my understanding this is the backbone of any learning organisation.

You may be wondering why I am referring to something to do with quality as the backbone of any company, when there are other existential functions such as marketing, development, engineering, sales, operations, supply chain, purchasing, logistics, distribution, etc. PDCA, in fact, doesn’t have anything to do with quality, but has a lot to do with the mindset and culture for structured work, so much necessary in any business function.

In this blog, I will be sharing my learning from applying the PDCA cycle.

PDCA refers to Plan, Do, Check, Act, the four phases of execution.

Plan phase: I have heard a lot of people blaming planning for not being able to execute well. Is this really the case?

Just before I started my role of corporate planning in Germany for our international production network, my boss, one of the best in my career, told me, “Dinakar, remember that any plan is always made to be changed. Changing the plan at the right time, always incorporating what you learnt, is the key to business success”. This advice helped me, as the first foreigner doing this role, learn quickly and perform this role as good as all my German predecessors.

Planning based on realistic, preferably validated, assumptions, is the most important success factor. The other most important success factor is to strive for, and ensure common understanding of the purpose, expected outcomes, overall strategy, and the individual approaches. These are two that contribute to people blaming planning for the disaster.

The other normal questions for the plan phase are:

  • Do we have standards/targets and are they aligned and deployed? Do we have practices to adhere to the standard and actions to meet the target?
  • On what basis are we planning? (RASIC, Procedures, Ishikawa?, Pareto?, DOE?,..)
  • Have we defined the responsible (in Agreement!), due dates (Realistic!) and intermediate check points?
  • Do we have a mitigation or back-up for potential risks?

Do phase: The Murphy’s Law is the most common factor while doing. The actual reality will most probably be different than the simulation. The ability for each one involved in the doing, to adapt themselves to the actual reality and give in their best to realise the plan is the most important success factor. The other most important success factor is everyone either following the agreed upon plan without any changes that will impact others or proactively seeking a change of plan with everyone to accommodate the actual reality. These two success factors work against Murphy’s Law for realising a plan.

The other normal questions for the do phase are:

  • Have we understood standards/targets?
  • Are we questioning the decided approach/action without having attempted to do?
  • Are we constantly checking if anything else has changed and confirming that we are progressing towards target?
  • Are we adhering to the standards and consciously aware of the deviations?
  • Are we checking the actual situation and the current completion forecast and the gap?

Check phase: Checking is a very tricky task, since non judgemental like to like comparison is the key success factor. While checking I have always sought to first get the data, facts, information, etc. depicted on a board before anyone can discuss and make inferences.

The normal questions for the check phase are:

  • Have we checked the progress and completion of the defined actions?
  • Are actual situation, current forecast and the gap visualised for a layman to understand, in seconds?
  • Have we checked the plausibility of the numbers and confirmed the gap?
  • Have we checked the actual situation correctly and confirmed by visiting Gemba (the place of action)?
  • Have we understood cause and effect?

In addition to these, in my experience the following 2 questions are the core of the check phase.

  1. Had everyone understood the purpose, intent, expectations, outcome, strategy, goals, targets and approaches uniformly?
  2. What went well, so that we can repeat, and what didn’t, for us to correct?

Act phase: I consider the act phase, the most crucial of all the phases. The earlier three phases are generally driven by an external force, like a customer, a client, a superior, etc. These forces, keenly interested in the quality on-time-in-full delivery, normally demand to be regularly updated of the progress. They then get behind our backs and drive completion.

Whereas the act phase is only for us to learn to do better the next time. In many cases an external force silently wishes that we skip the act phase, so that we continue to be dependent on them. In fact, we need a lot of resolve and conviction to act for continual learning and self-resilience.

The only success factor of this phase is the internalisation of the learning from the check phase, by updating our policies, guidelines, standards, procedures, processes, templates, checklists, instructions, etc. on the one hand, and by evolving our mindset and culture on the other.

I humbly admit that our clients, actually, just awaken the act phase in their companies with my invention doHow®, by changing the mindset and culture of their people for execution excellence.

The normal questions for the act phase are:

  • What must be done for everyone to understand the standards/targets, intent and expectations uniformly?
  • Who shall update our policies, guidelines, standards, procedures, processes, templates, checklists, instructions, etc. and by when?
  • How differently must we behave for internalising our learning?
  • Do we need to change our routines and/or add new ones?
  • Must we change our assumptions considered for the plan?
  • Must we change our contingency buffer included in the plan?

I believe that every organisation has a huge potential to exploit the act phase. I recommend reading this HBR article “Learning in the thick of it” to visualise the power of this act phase.

As usual, I will end my blog with this very impactful quote by Deming:

“Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival.”

Happy reading and happy learning, for survival!

3 thoughts on “The DNA of PDCA”

  1. A very powerful tool, well articulated. You rightly said that Act is the most important phase. Many time ‘A’ here becomes ‘Abondon’ and new cycle starts.

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