There are many models of quality improvement used today, from Total Quality Management to Continuous Quality Improvement to Lean Six Sigma. (Each business management consultant has their favorite…) But there’s one trial and error approach to quality improvement that could benefit every management team.
In the 1950s, Dr. William Deming, an American statistician, engineer, and management professional, pioneered a business quality/efficiency improvement approach. Deming was instrumental in rebuilding infrastructure in Japan after World War II and is known as the father of quality management. He proposed that business processes should be placed in continuous feedback loops to help management identify and fix parts that need improvement.
The model Deming devised is known as Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA). The PDCA cycle is a simple but effective approach for problem solving and managing changes. It ensures that ideas get properly tested before committing to full implementation.
Deming first referred to his model as the Shewhart Cycle, named after another quality improvement leader. He later called it the Plan-Do-Study– Act (PDSA) cycle because Deming felt that the word “check” implied inspection rather than the appropriate check, study and analysis procedure.
PDCA was modeled after Francis Bacon’s scientific method. In fact, steps of PDCA directly correspond to Bacon’s terminology in his Hypothesis-Experiment-Evaluation scientific method. In the scientific method, a hypothesis is confirmed or negated, and further knowledge is gained by repeating the process. Similarly, the PDCA cycle must be executed repeatedly to best improve business quality.
There are four steps to this quality improvement cycle:
- Plan: Establish objectives and the processes necessary to achieve those objectives.
- Do: Implement these processes.
- Check: Collect and analyze the data gathered from these processes.
- Act: Use the analysis to apply changes that will improve processes.
Ensuring Successful Implementation
Like all quality improvement methods, a PDCA cycle is only as good as the people who design and implement it. For PDCA to be successful and bring about positive changes, there are many requirements:
- A team of knowledgeable employees who work together.
- Clearly set goals.
- A process for measuring the desired progress.
- Specific observable changes.
- An agreed upon way to test those changes.
- And finally, implementation of the changes that will bring about desired improvements.
A Closer Look at Each Step
Now, let’s elaborate on each segment of this continuous cycle.
The Plan segment includes the following steps:
- Clearly defining goals to be accomplished.
- Providing guidance to the management team.
- Ensuring team activities are aligned with their goal.
- Creating a measurable/numerical Aim Statement.
- Making predictions.
The Do segment is where the planning is put into action. This includes:
- Recording unexpected problems and relevant observations.
- Performing a preliminary assessment of data.
The Check segment includes the following steps:
- A complete analysis of data.
- Comparing collected data with predictions.
- Creating a summary of what was learned.
The Act segment is where:
- Decisions are made on what changes should be made next cycle that were discovered in the last cycle.
- The process starts all over again.
The Benefits of PDCA
The PDCA cycle is a very effective tool for evaluating both the effectiveness and the cost of business process changes. It also helps business leaders to anticipate problems and barriers in implementation of those changes.
Successfully implementing this trial and error approach can help any management team improve the quality of their business processes.