When any failure occurs in a business, it’s a clear sign that improvement is needed. But rather than trial and error — or worse, simply reacting as issues occur — using a basic model for making and sustaining improvements will deliver precise, measurable results and provide a path for continued success.

Applying a PDCA (plan, do, check, act) model to carry out change is a reliable way to address any failures while ensuring continuous improvement. The PDCA model also can be used when starting a new improvement project, developing a new process, implementing any change, and working toward continuous improvement.

Steps for Success

Essentially, PDCA is a simple framework to discuss, document and plan an improvement. The steps are as follows:

Plan: Establish the processes necessary to deliver the desired result or fix.

Do: The next step is implementation. Follow the plan for the objectives or processes that will be implemented or changed.

Check: Measure the results in each step of the new process to identify which ones are working and which aren’t. Results should be repeatable, not cumbersome.

Act: If the desired results are not being achieved, go back to the planning step and adjust, modify and repeat.

The PDCA model is a business best practice that many companies know about, but few are successful in implementing. To ensure success, buy-in from the top down must be part of a company’s culture. Following a structured plan gives an organization the opportunity to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of an improvement, but if everyone isn’t on board, the result is time spent planning, extra work and eventual burnout.

Another key to success is to focus on areas that have the greatest impact on the organization. For continuous improvements, look at the department or process that is struggling the most, and focus on a PDCA process to improve it.

Most companies struggle with the “check” step, taking the time to implement a change, but never going back to make sure what they’re doing is achieving the desired outcome. To avoid this, or any missed step, use an effective document like a PDCA checklist.

While the principles and methodology of PDCA or Six Sigma might be more challenging for small or mid-size companies to implement, it is possible. Since they likely don’t have the luxury of pulling employees off the floor or away from their jobs to learn the processes, the solution is to extend the time needed to perform tasks. If a Kaizen event typically is a week-long workshop, it may take one to two months to complete at a midsize company. Management must divide the work and learn to apply it within the company culture.

Continuous Course of Action

Think of PDCA as a cycle — a process for continued improvement, rather than a finish line. After all, processes can always be improved, including:

  • Improving employee morale and engagement
  • Increased client satisfaction
  • Driving bottom line results

For example, one area that positively or negatively impacts white glove service is on-time delivery. Regardless of the set goal in this area, as a company continuously improves, those metrics also should improve. If a company that is currently running at 90% implements a PDCA initiative for improvement, the goal is to meet a minimum threshold that the majority of clients demand. After implementation, the percentage could climb to 92%, then 94%, then 96%. If clients demand a 97% or greater on-time delivery rate, the company must continue to implement PDCA until it reaches that 97% threshold.

The result is a constant wave of continuous planning and improvement until the desired outcome is achieved. At that point, continued monitoring must take place to ensure lasting results.

A core process comprising multiple steps, like on-time delivery, should be measured on a weekly basis, followed by monthly measurement once the goal is met. However, if trying to improve the cycle time of a tool, for example, it should be checked after three or four hours. The timeline for evaluation is based on whether it’s a core process or a manufacturing process. Cycle time improvement should be evaluated on a shorter time frame.

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