Planning is important. Maybe even more is the ability to EXECUTE ACCORDING TO PLAN. This does not mean that plans are not adaptable, good ones are. This means though that when we are “in the moment,” we must believe in what we are doing and execute within our existing capabilities. Or in other words, Standard Work. Preparation is the key in delivery, and you must prepare and be comfortable with the plan (Standard Work). Improving on your plan is a deliberate action outside of your Standard Work. Without this understanding, you may wander and not achieve what you set out for.
We are so obsessed with this thought and the “so-called” ever changing world around us that we are willing to toss the best laid plans out the window. The new advice is to iterate and seek perfection. Planning has become so passé. I personally struggle with the all to common Inspect-Adapt thoughts.
I believe in a learn by doing approach, Lean. This approach incorporates the principles of PDCA/PDSA (Plan – Do – Study – Adjust). Most believers in PDCA/PDCSA will tell you that the “P” should incorporate 50% of your time. Planning is important.
Karen Martin, author of The Outstanding Organization: Generate Business Results by Eliminating Chaos and Building the Foundation for Everyday Excellence, says in the Business901 Podcast, Achieving Organizational Health:
Joe: You bring up my next question and lead into it perfectly. Planning seems to be so taboo. Even the Lean StartupTM version of PDCA is Build, Measure, and Learn. Planning, it just seems we’re dropping the planning from the cycle. Is there still room for planning?
Karen: Oh, yes. I’m so glad you asked that question because a lot of my content got on the cutting-room floor because I had far more words than what my contract was for. One of the things I went into in detail, that got cut, was my…I don’t know…I’m frustrated with what’s going on out there around planning and there are a lot of people that are playing into it. So I touch on Gladwell’s comments about planning, and I touch on other people and their anti?planning, guys who are out there, and I think it’s just wrong, just wrong because I think what happens, and I mentioned this very quickly in the book, is that people have gotten the plan confused with the process of planning.
The criticisms I keep hearing about planning is that, “Well, the world is so fluid, and you have to be flexible and agile.” Of course you do but who said that once you get a plan in place, you may not ever, under any circumstances, deviate from it. No one said that and yet that’s how organizations have behaved. So once again, we throw the baby out with the bathwater on an extremely robust and necessary part of performing well and people say, “Ah, forget the plans. We can’t plan,” and that’s just wrong.
Joe: A well-thought-out plan is going to include the ability to adapt?
Karen: Well right. That’s what PDSA is or PDCA. It is about adapting based on current conditions. There’s a lot going on even in the Lean community that’s smelling as though people were saying, “Well, stop with your plans, stop with your to-do list, and stop with this…” I’m like, “No, no, no, no, no. Don’t stop with it but use PDCA/PDSA as it was intended,” which is being very present with what your experiment’s results are showing, alter your hypothesis, go back experiment again, and keep on adapting based on your new information.
PDCA was made popular by Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who is considered by many to be the father of modern quality control; however it was always referred to by him as the “Shewhart cycle”. Later in Deming’s career, he modified PDCA to “Plan, Do, Study, Act” (PDSA) so as to better describe his recommendations.
The concept of PDCA is based on the scientific method, as developed from the work of Francis Bacon (Novum Organum, 1620). The scientific method can be written as “hypothesis,” “experiment,” “evaluation” or plan, do, and check. Shewhart described manufacture under “control” – under statistical control – as a three-step process of specification, production and inspection. He also specifically related this to the scientific method of hypothesis, experiment and evaluation. Shewhart says that the statistician “must help to change the demand [for goods] by showing…how to close up the tolerance range and to improve the quality of goods”. Clearly, Shewhart intended the analyst to take action based on the conclusions of the evaluation.
According to Deming, during his lectures in Japan in the early 1950s, the Japanese participants shortened the steps to the now traditional plan, do, check, act. Deming preferred plan, do, study, act because “study” has connotations in English closer to Shewhart’s intent than “check”.
I have chosen to stay with PDCA to keep it consistent throughout the information presented. A fundamental principle of the scientific method and PDCA is iteration – once a hypothesis is confirmed (or negated), executing the cycle again will extend the knowledge further. Repeating the PDCA cycle can bring us closer to the goal, usually a perfect operation and output.
For the most comprehensive discussion of PDCA, I recommend Four Practical Revolutions in Management: Systems for Creating Unique Organizational Capability. It is not an airplane book. It is 700 pages of small print and very dry. The wealth of information in it though is unbelievable.
In the The Toyota Way Fieldbook, you may read Chapter 17, Plan-Do-Check-Act but I think it is somewhat confusing and when used out of context does not give a good description of PDCA.