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Improved PDCA
Walter Shewart
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Improved PDCA

Having seen the benefits of simple to understand models such as PDCA and also seeing the problems with PDCA has led me to improve the concept. Elsewhere I have written about about my work in a high quality enterprise culture to create 'Improved PDCA'. I won't repeat that story here, except to state that the result includes the following:

  • People explicitly included, comprising personal, team, cultural and motivational aspects.
  • Explicit Thinking step - the unique aspect that people bring (products and processes don't think!). There are 12 thinking modes, each explained in detail and how they apply to various situations and endeavours.
  • Combination of the three main factors in everything we do: People-Process-Product. Products are both what we produce and what we use (technology, tools, etc.)
  • Personal approach to quality and improvement as a foundation theme, with connection to team, culture and five other themes.
  • Proper goals, targets and aims, not just planning.
  • Layered knowledge approach that expands upon the simple overview level that allows users to drill down to what they need when it is needed, without suffering information overload.

The result of Improved PDCA is STARS. The STARS personal theme is:

  • Set Goals
  • Think
  • Act
  • Review
  • Supply improvements

There are seven other themes that build upon this personal approach, including teams and teamwork, organizational culture, improvement and innovation, customer satisfaction and systems. They are described in the STARS pages on this web site.

I have already highlighted that the Think stage (12 thinking modes) has a wider range of meaning, application and outcomes than the Plan stage of PDCA. Taking another stage in the personal theme: Set Goals. How is this different to Plan in PDCA? First and very importantly setting goals has a motivational aspect that Plan in PDCA fails to address. Second, goals are targets, in other words something we strive for, rather than an intention or detailed proposal to achieve something. Hence goals are superior to plans, i.e. they drive plans. Plans do not drive goals!! So if you set goals, one outcome may be a need to plan but sometimes there is no need to plan, rather a need to just 'do it'. Another outcome may be relationships with other people to achieve the goals rather than plan a particular action or set of actions. So setting goals has a wider reach and effect than Plan in PDCA.

PDCA also has an inherent circular paradigm (look at the Wikipedia entry if you don't believe me). It assumes that everything starts with Planning. I know that I do not plan everything. I challenge you to Think about times you did not plan something. Did you take an action that was based upon thought but no planning? Was the outcome acceptable or unacceptable? I can recount many times that I did something without planning that was successful, but I cannot think of any time that I did something without some thought (even if it was reactive thinking). In fact, in areas such as innovation and invention it is sometimes better not to plan! One of my responsibilities as a coach is to help people to think better (i.e. use the appropriate thinking mode) and not rely on stereotypical plans and planning. This can be as difficult as getting an accountant to see patterns in numbers without counting them. It may sound trivial but it is not always easy to get people to adopt new modes of thought and recognize when their habits are counterproductive. 

While STARS can also read in a clockwise circular manner, I coach people to avoid doing this without checking that this is valid. It may be better to use it counterclockwise, or only use a couple of stages (e.g. Think-Set Goals-Think). I sometimes depict the eight main STARS themes as an upward spiral that culminates in the stage 'Strive for Excellence' from the improvement theme. But I also coach users that they are free to think and choose any stage from any theme as needed. In fact the second layer of the STARS methodology is deliberately called 'suggestions' - it focuses users on making thinking choices that best suit their needs.

Don't settle for ordinary PDCA, look at how STARS boosts improvement and innovation.

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