June 7, 02016 · Problem solving Concepts A3

There comes a point in a person's early encounter with lean principles—I aim for this to occur no more than fifteen minutes in—when the question becomes:

"This crapola. This thing about continuous improvement in service of customer value through respect for people. It all sounds good. But a lot of things sound good. What's the point? What the actual fuck are we doing?"1

WTF we are doing is this: we are doing PDCA.

Which is to say that, when we encounter problems…

Cue the peanut gallery:

Sure, PDCA sounds easy. But I want you to think about this. Have you ever noticed anything similar to any of these four steps happening?

Here's a hard truth. People suck at planning, at doing, and checking.

What about act? Finally, some good news. People are pretty great at acting on what they've learned. It's the getting there that's hard.

Sidebar: PDCA/PDSA/PDCA Deming/Shewhart Cycle/Wheel/Circle

Is it Plan-Do-Check-Act, Plan-Do-Study-Act, Plan-Do-Check-Adjust?

Or, as it was stated by Serge Chermayeff in my first introduction to the idea, Need-Tool-Experiment-Research-Refinement?

You can have it however you like, and are invited to the PDCA page on Wikipedia for history and your choice of liberally-licensed grotesque illustrations of the cycle.

Key points for PDCA

When I help folks practice PDCA, these are key points I want them to understand and internalize:





One must imagine Sisyphus happy

PDCA is a cycle. It's one that's worth getting good at. It's something you can grapple with at any scale. You can build systems, environments, and displays that support PDCA. You can make this as complicated as you want. But you know what?

Start simple. Start soon. And don't do it alone. Think of something that isn't right and that bugs you at least twice a week. Make a plan. Work through those key points up there. I challenge you to fit it all onto a single sheet of paper. Big old sheet is fine. Share it with somebody. Ask them what they think. Did you get it right? What might make this plan better?

After all…


  1. Believe me, people think it. Maybe they won't say it. But I can hear 'em thinking it.

  2. "Step 4: Establish Workgroup"

  3. How does this problem decrease the value we’re creating for customers? Does the problem cause us to spend time creating waste and errors rather than something anybody on god’s green earth might possibly want? Are people disrespected or held back because this problem exists?

  4. If the answer is "nothing", that's fine, except that the answer is never "nothing". Keep thinking.

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