Today’s organizations tend to run lean and fast. Every minor change can have a major impact when the right variables are adjusted. No matter what your field, your organization has room to increase revenue, reduce spending, improve customer satisfaction, or get better results on some other internal metric. You just need a systematic way to go about it.
Get on the Road to Improvement with the Deming Wheel
Dr. William Edwards Deming was a management consultant who addressed ways to improve products and systems. His strategy tool, the Deming Wheel, meant that organizations could systematically test one area at a time and adopt changes that, based on data, gave them better results.
He formulated his system as a wheel rather than a track because he felt it was a way to gain continuous improvement and innovation. Because one target is worked on at a time, adherents can see the outcomes clearly, and eliminate background noise that can make it hard to see the results of your actions.
Step One: Plan
If you are here, you’ve already identified an area where your process is lacking, and you have an idea of how to improve. Take in all the information available, from internal metrics, vendor materials, and reviews from others who’ve tried the remedies you are considering. For instance, if you are dealing with too much downtime from your current cloud provider, this stage may involve reading about well architected framework.
Step Two: Do
You’ve gathered your information, you’ve settled on a solution. Now it’s time to test your ideas. In most cases, you will want to start with a small scale pilot program before you adopt this new process across the board. For instance, a company that is getting complaints from clients about damaged products may do a short trial of new packaging material. Instead of buying 1,000 units and sending them out into the void, they can test the new packaging by sending them to 20 or so test recipients in different areas of the country to see if the new packaging is any better.
During your “Do” phase, gather information about whether your solution seems to provide a satisfactory solution to your problem. You’ll need this for the next step.
Step Three: Check
It’s not enough to decide that the new process is good enough based on how you and other stakeholders feel about it. Use hard data to back up your results. Going back to the cloud provider and your work to reduce downtime, what do the new figures look like compared to the last provider and set-up?
If you are hitting your target that you planned on in step one, you are ready to head to the final step. Still not getting the results you want? Back to the beginning to test out a new way of improving.
Step Four: Act
Happy with your test, you are ready for a wide deployment of your solution. But, it’s important to remember that PDCA is a cycle, not a one-time series of steps.
Your new status quo becomes your baseline for future improvement. To take the example from the shipping company, maybe you like the quality of the new packaging, but it’s increasing costs and cutting into net revenue. Go back to the beginning and identify the problem you are having and start gathering information about potential solutions.
Continual Honing and Improvement
When controlled tests are part of your process, you can’t help but see an improvement over time. Always consider each variable separately, and address your problems one by one. Gather data to back up your conclusions, so that you know that you are getting an objective improvement.
Make PDCA a Habit
PDCA isn’t just for business. Many people have adopted it as a strategy for self-improvement, as well. They’ll look at a place in their life they want to improve, then systematically try new strategies to see if they experience improvement. Say you are someone who wants to learn to speak Spanish, but you have a hard time sticking with lessons. You can set a goal of 100 new vocabulary words, or the ability to hold a five-minute casual conversation. Try a new learning method, then see how you like your results.
Making this systematic, data-driven method part of your automatic problem-solving means that you are in a better position to adapt and adjust no matter what the setting. Over time, you’ll find that you are able to break down more complex problems on the job, and make the fine adjustments that will give you a process that is always improving.