When PDCA does not work

As stated in my previous blog, almost every change methodology uses some form of PDCA. This can lead to a one size fits all approach in PDCA and to PDCA fatigue in employees. Especially if previous change efforts with PDCA failed.

So how to deal with this? You need to get to know the company first and make sure that the company gets its own PDCA based process which fits the needs of the company. You also need to know why previous efforts failed by doing root cause analysis.

PDCA to implement your ideas successfully

The most common root causes of PDCA failing

  • Forgetting check and/or act: This is the most common mistake when trying to work with PDCA. Plan and do get an inordinate amount of attention and rewards are usually centred on plan and do. It is also human nature to relax and go on to the next problem once it appears to be solved. Following through requires discipline, but it will reap great rewards when done well. When you forget check and act there will be a number of times you will not actually have solved the problem. This will lead to problems reoccurring and to people thinking that your change methodology has failed.
  • Not experimenting: The idea of PDCA is to test your solutions, even if they seem risky. Testing risky solutions instead of safer ones is not always rewarded. This may lead to problems not really being solved. A lot of successful companies work out different solutions (prototypes) and test some of them to get a good idea of what will work. Testing different solutions will cost more, but will also help you solve the problem at the root cause. Failed tests are perceived as a good results in reaching the end goal.
  • Make PDCA a solitary excercise: The best way to do PDCA is to collaborate, share ideas and insights. This combined knowledge will lead to better results and to more buy in for your solution. Usually you are not the only one needed to make the solution a success. Getting your stakeholders involved early on will help you adjust the analysis and solution to their needs as well.
  • Make PDCA a desk study: PDCA needs to be grounded in facts, data and reality as well as reflection. You need to go and see.
  • Use PDCA without a clear goal or intention: Using PDCA because somebody said you should will definitely not work. It will lead to a weak or lacking definition of success and therefore to a lack of structural results.
  • Forget to train capabilities and build trust within your employees: Not everyone knows how to check and act. This will require training, tools and empowerment. Kata is a great way of coaching employees to learn how to think and act within the PDCA cycle.
Infographic improvement kata

Reduce struggle and grow people

Helping people to improve with structural results is the best thing there is. You see people grow and enjoy improvement. This is unfortunately not something that comes easy. It requires a lot a discipline, work, patience and love. When employees feel empowered and capable to do PDCA well you will be surprised at the results. Often they will be surprised as well. I hope you enjoy your journey and make sure they get to enjoy theirs. 


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