Monday, I talked about what the PDCA cycle is. Today I want to highlight how critical the step Plan is.
Many times, while analyzing a problem, we don’t spend enough time understanding it. Instead of looking for the root cause of the problem, we start developing theories to correct the symptoms. If we create a plan to test possible solutions to the wrong problem, then the plan is doomed to fail.
The most important part of the PDCA cycle is understanding the problem. Get the background of the current situation. Even when you think you know the process, ask why it exists. Check the capability, expected outcomes, and actual performance. What value does it provide to the customer? Research regarding any possible risks, policies or regulations that can affect efficiency.
You must spend time observing what is going on. Go to gemba, where the action happens. Observe for as long as you can, and take notes to compare against all the data. You cannot have the whole story if you don’t go and see it for yourself. Go ahead and talk with your team, the people who do the work. Respectfully ask questions to understand the situation from their point of view.
After you know the process, define the problem. What is the gap between the expectation or goals and the current results? Describe the current situation using data, charts, tables or diagrams. Use tools like the 5 Whys and Fishbone diagrams to understand why that gap exists. It is critical for success that you identify the root cause of the problem. Otherwise, you will be working with symptoms and not the real problem.
Engage the team in the discussion of possible solutions. Go to gemba again and brainstorm with the people doing the work. If you find more than one root cause, rank them according to which has the greatest impact on the problem. At this point, you should have all the information you need to propose countermeasures or possible solutions. Tie your action items with the root cause while creating the plan. Who is responsible for doing what? How? Where? By when?
During this initial step, you determine the success of the PDCA exercise. You are trying to formulate theories to explain the gap between the standard and current performance, without the complete information, your theory will be wrong.