My Personal ‘SPIN’ on PDCA


PDCA…Plan, Do, Check, Act

I like the PDCA cycle for three reasons:

  • It’s simple
  • It provides a pathway for teaching
  • It works

I love teaching. For me, seeing the light bulb over a lean student’s head illuminate for the first time is highly rewarding. Because of this disposition, early years of my lean journey were filled with many moments of frustration. If co-workers entrusted to me by management did not become fully engaged with the topics at hand, training sessions would lack enough enthusiasm to gain success. Without proper training and understanding of key concepts, lean initiatives would oftentimes stagnate. As a lean leader, this trend became personal…a little learning only gives a little reward.

During my years of learning, sharing, and teaching lean concepts, these situations led me to an important discovery. Not everyone asked to become part of a lean transformation is personally on-board …especially at the beginning.

Thinking through this over time, I found that my teaching/coaching success could be greatly increased by purposefully ‘tweaking’ what I was teaching so it could be absorbed by those involved personally.

To help illustrate the idea, here’s how I best relate to the PDCA cycle:

PLAN: Can I be honest? I’m not very good at planning…at least in the way I’ve been forced to plan projects throughout my career. Too much office time…I need to be in the trenches. For me, planning is better understood as Scale or Shape. I PLAN best by making a simple SKETCH.

DO: Now we’re talking. Skip plan, let’s DO something! What does DO mean to me? Perform, Persist, Practice, Pursue? Maybe…but I get more things done when I’m having fun. I’d rather PLAY.

CHECK: Seems too easy. We all know the importance of measuring what we’re trying to improve. Inspect and Investigate. Lots of things to look at, including people involved. In order to CHECK what people are doing, I need to INQUIRE.

ACT: Not the final act! The process only works if we keep going through the cycle. Numbers are set, and we Negotiate. That’s fine, but unless I NOURISH what’s been discovered, the cycle stops.

My personal ‘SPIN’ on the PDCA cycle: Sketch, Play, Inquire, Nourish. Those four words I relate to personally…so I enjoy going through the process again and again.

Sometimes life is easier when you’re dizzy.

What’s your SPIN?

This lean PDCA story was originally shared on the Lean Career Compass, a private and professional platform that is free to those actively involved in lean transformation.

About Steve Martin - theThinkShack

Hey there...I'm Steve. I built theThinkShack...a virtual hideaway about Lean Thinking and how it Connects to Everyday Life.
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3 Responses to My Personal ‘SPIN’ on PDCA

  1. Matt Wrye says:

    Steve –
    This is a fresh and unique “SPIN” on PDCA. I like the words you choose. I think it captures the heart of PDCA without losing the in depth work that needs to go one sometimes. Something to think about.

  2. Steve – I like your three reasons and I agree with them. But, maybe due to the fact it is simple and the PDCA is very well known (it is taught in many schools and universities), many people overlook the consequences of following the PDCA consequently. In the Netherlands, my home country, we do a lot of research on the effectiveness of the PDCA in terms of: follow companies consequently the four steps of the PDCA (less than 10% do) and what is the impact on company results (huge if it is done smart).

    We see a few clusters (or so to speak patterns) in the use (or misuse) of the PDCA. First you have companies that are very strong in making plans, goals and strategies, but struggle in the execution of them (this is the biggest cluster of companies). The second cluster of companies are good in the execution, but they miss a good plan or strategy (the people are literally doing something, but they are not involved in doing things better). A good example is the sector Healthcare. The last cluster of companies are checking nearly everything, without having smart goals and targets in place (for example financials). To make your company PDCA proof (as we speak about it for aligning all four steps to each other), in our vision you need procesmanagement and people and management who can think in processes.

    To get everyone in their personal PDCA ‘SPIN’ it looks like we have still a lot of work to do in explaining the magic, power and do’s and dont’s in PDCA.

    • Tom,
      Thank you for your comments. I especially appreciate your points regarding the need to incorporate the entire PDCA cycle effectively in order to achieve proper success.
      I’d be interested to hear more of your thoughts on Healthcare. Very interesting point you make about the Healthcare sector executing well, but lacking a good plan or strategy. Can you elaborate more?
      I agree, we still have lots of work to do!

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