The Resilience of PDCA


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A few weeks ago I wrote the blog post, The Death of PDCA that stated by following traditional Lean thinking, it leads us to focus our efforts of continuous improvement internally versus externally. Knowing my interest in the Evolution of PDCA, Karen Martin a well-regarded Lean consultant and co-author of The Kaizen Event Planner sent me Evolution of the PDCA Cycle. The paper covers the development of PDCA from the introduction of the scientific method (you could argue between Aristotle or Galileo) to the latest development covered by the paper with the addition of the Model for Improvement published and described in The Improvement Guide. This book was published in 2009.

In reading the research paper, I discovered that somewhere along the line after the Japanese executives recast the Deming wheel at the 1950 JUSE seminar into the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle till now, we lost that all important external outlook of PDCA to one of an internally focused improvement methodology. In the book, Kaizen: The Key To Japan’s Competitive Success, Masaaki Imai shows the correlation between the Deming wheel and the PDCA cycle in Figure 5 developed at the seminar.

  1. Design – Plan: Product design corresponds to the planning phase of management
  2. Production – Do: Production corresponds to doing-making, or working on the
    product that was designed
  3. Sales – Check: Sales figures confirm whether the customer is satisfied
  4. Research – Action: In case of a complaint being filed, it has to be incorporated into the planning phase, and action taken for the next round of efforts

In the paper, Evolution of the PDCA Cycle, it goes on to state:

By the 1960’s the PDCA cycle in Japan had evolved into an improvement cycle and a
management tool. Lilrank and Kano state the 7 basic tools (check sheet, histograms,
Pareto chart, fishbone diagram, graphs, scatter diagrams, and stratification) highlight the
central principle of Japanese quality.

I believe that somewhere between these two points the Check stage of PDCA due to the introduction of the 7 Quality Tools became internally focused and developed along that path during the years of process improvement. In the last decade, we have evolved from the processed driven culture of the 90’s through the Customer Centric culture and now breaking ground on the new culture of User Centric.

The scientific method and PDCA works. That is the reason it adapts and evolves with time. A measure of that is the popularity of Eric Ries and the Lean Startup with the use of Build – Measure – Learn. You can also see it in the practices of Design Thinking and more specifically the Service Design field highlighted in my post, Can Service Design increase Customer demand?. They have established a basis for EDCA (Explore-Do-Check_Act).

When your culture and thinking changes, so must your tools. We need a complimentary tool set which was outlined in a previous post, Continuous Improvement Sales and Marketing Toolset. I am not saying that we throw away the 7 Quality Tools but as a rule we do not use them in the early stages of development. They are more useful in the Standardization process and therefore the SDCA cycle. This is a list of the 7 basic Quality Tools to be used in SDCA:

  1. Cause-and-effect diagram
  2. Check sheet
  3. Control charts
  4. Histogram
  5. Pareto chart
  6. Scatter diagram
  7. Stratification

In 1976, the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) saw the need for tools to promote innovation, communicate information and successfully plan major projects. A team researched and developed the seven new quality control tools, often called the seven management and planning (MP) tools, or simply the seven management tools. This is the set that I propose to be used most often in PDCA:

  1. Affinity diagram
  2. Relations diagram
  3. Tree diagram
  4. Matrix diagram:
  5. Matrix data analysis
  6. Arrow diagram
  7. Process decision program chart (PDPC)

Today’s world has introduced more and more uncertainty. As a result it has forced us to get closer and closer to our customers. This reduces are reaction time and allows us to make better informed decisions. This methodology has been introduced to us through the concepts of Design Thinking. This is the set that I propose to be used in EDCA:

  1. Visualization
  2. Journey Mapping
  3. Value Chain Analysis
  4. Mind Mapping
  5. Brainstorming
  6. Concept Development
  7. Assumption Testing
  8. Rapid Prototyping
  9. Customer Co-Creation
  10. Learning Launch

I am not saying that tools cannot cross over into other cycles or that this list is inclusive. Tools in fact should only be used as needed. But in the process of defining your tool-set, it will assist in understanding the individual cycles of continuous improvement for the Lean Sales and Marketing process. So, like the possum that has adapted and survived where others have become extinct, the scientific method and PDCA will continue to evolve and live.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Dager
Business901 is a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He has authored the books the Lean Marketing House, Marketing with A3 and Marketing with PDCA. The Business901 Blog and Podcast includes many leading edge thinkers and has been featured numerous times for its contributions to the Bloomberg's Business Week Exchange.


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