At THP we recently conducted some PDCA training sessions for employees across the organization. PDCA stands for Plan-Do-Check-Act and it is a very popular management technique for ensuring continuous improvement whether that is for a product, a process or a person.
The concept was originally developed by the American engineer Dr. William Deming in 1950 and then enthusiastically adopted by Japanese companies over the following few decades. In fact, some people attribute the country’s post-war economic miracle to it.
The principle behind PDCA is very easy to understand. As such, we find PDCA a very effective way to train our employees in our core values, many of which are based on it including: Customer Satisfaction, International Quality Standards and Today is Better than Yesterday but not as Good as Tomorrow.
So how do we view PDCA at THP?
We all know the importance of good planning. As the former US President Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening my axe.”
Thinking things through thoroughly is the essential step to success. So first, it is important to understand what we are hoping to achieve – is it a problem we want to solve, or an opportunity we hope to grasp?
And indeed, are either of the above what we should be focusing on? Or is there something more important instead?
Once an objective is defined, then the next step is to collect as much information as possible and identify what steps we need to be taken to achieve the goal and what resources we require to execute it.
It is also important to identify what we think success will look like and how we plan to measure it.
Once a plan has been drawn up, then is the time to act. But rather than throw a huge amount of resources at an untested idea, it is generally better to conduct a pilot first, either small-scale, or in a controlled environment.
This should quickly demonstrate whether a plan or a product is able to withstand the real-world environment – whether we are achieving what we thought we would. And perhaps just as importantly, this is the time to make sure that the plan is being communicated to the people (internally or externally) who need to know about it.
This stage is all about checking, although Deming himself preferred the word study. This is because this stage is not just a period to make sure that the results live up to expectations, but also to understand why they did or did not. This helps to inform future decisions.
If the plan is not generating the required results, then it is time to return to step 1 and come up with a new one. If things are panning out as planned, then it is time to move to step four.
When it comes to communications, this stage is all about providing updates so that everyone involved in the process has a clear and transparent picture.
This is the point when the product or process gets rolled out at scale. But PDCA is not an end point, but a circular process.
This is why Deming originally called it a wheel. Continuous improvement means just that. Good processes and products always benefit from refinement and reassessment.
In Vietnamese culture it is very similar to our view of yin and yang, which we do see as opposites but complementary, like a wheel in motion to form a harmonious whole.