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The A in PDCA - Making Improvement Projects Count

PDCA has been around for a long time, it is central to business improvement philosophies and rightly so. PDCA stands for Plan, Do, Check, Act. It is also commonly known as the Deming cycle after the hugely influential Dr W. Edwards Deming. The purpose of this article is to focus on the A, the Act, portion of the cycle as I feel this is one of the most neglected elements of this wonderful approach.

Whilst most businesses are good at the Plan stage and fairly good at the Do activity many fail at both the Check and the Act elements. Failure to take advantage of these other two parts of the cycle steals the victory of improvement away from us and reduces our motivation to attempt other improvement projects in the future. The Check stage is straightforward; did our intended plan of action yield the correct results? The answer you give will be either a yes or a no, but the important thing to do after this is to clarify to what degree we are away from our desired goal.

The PDCA cycle is at the core of lean manufacturing
PDCA only works if you do all of the steps!
This understanding of the deviation we have between our actions (cause) and our results (effect) gives us information so that we can decide on how to Act. Rarely do improvement projects yield the perfect result on their first round. Even an improvement that has brought with it amazing results still needs to be refined and polished, the new insights gained from implementing the change in the first place will have an effect on us and we get to capitalise on this by going round the cycle again.

When we do get to an end point, however, we need to use the Act stage to exit the cycle, at least temporarily before the next insight is reached and improvements re-start. We have a range of options to crystallise the change within our business and it is our jobs to choose the most appropriate method to close out a project and lock it into our business practises. Let me touch upon a few of these options so that you can generate other ideas that are appropriate to your business.

  • One of the most obvious things to do is to create a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that details the precise steps in your new process to ensure repeatability of the results you are now achieving.
  • The essential tasks that relate to the improved situation can be built into your work habits, using visual management or whatever you find to work best for your team.
  • New employees can experience the benefits of the revised way of working through their induction and training plans.
  • The new information can be disseminated through the business via memo, presentation and company newsletter.
  • An improvement log can be maintained so that we don’t forget where we have come from and how we got to our current position.

Embrace the A in PDCA and leverage it to make your business work even better. Avoid reinventing the wheel and keep your own business improvement projects moving in the right direction.

Giles Johnston
Author, Consultant and Chartered Engineer

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