The IT Infrastructure
Library® (ITIL®) indicates that systematic process improvement
requires a Quality Management System (QMS). As usuall, the ITIL is
sketchy about the QMS, but does mention one in particular -- The
Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) of the Deming cycle.
PDCA is a cyclic
improvement/problem resolution tool. Each cycle moves closer to the
objective. This approach builds on the fact that knowledge and skills are
always limited, but can improve as we go.
The power of PDCA lies
in its simplicity. While easy to understand, it is often difficult to
accomplish on an on-going basis due to complacency, distractions, loss of
focus, lack of commitment, re-assigned priorities, lack of resources, etc.
While most claim full
knowledge and on-going application, few have in-depth understanding, and
even fewer practice PDCA on a consistent basis.
Following I explain PDCA
and how to use it.
The Power Behind the Wheel
PDCA can deliver "quick fixes" typical
to western management approaches, but it also works well for incremental/continuous
process improvements typical to eastern management approaches.
Regardless of management style, PDCA helps ensure improvement.
Bell Laboratories scientist Walter
Shewhart, the statistician who also developed statistical process control,
developed the “Shewhart Cycle” Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)
concept in the 1930’s.
In the 1950’s Dr. W. Edwards Deming, friend
and student of Shewhart popularized PDCA. PDCA became associated with
him became known as the “Deming Wheel ” even though he always referred it as
the “Shewhart Cycle.” Later in Deming’s career, he modified PDCA to Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) to describe more precisely his recommendations.
Six Sigma programs refer to this cycle as
Cycles of Improvement
Many times an immediate and dramatic
improvement is not possible. There truly is no "quick fix" for many
problems. Sometimes, it is not even possible to completely define the
problem, much less the fix. PDCA provides a method for improving
any process systematically. Used consistently PDCA delivers
Practitioners use PDCA as a guide to analyze processes.
The goal is to identify errors or omissions that cause the output of the
process to fall short of expectations. PDCA is useful anywhere the object is
As a model for
When starting a new
When developing a
new or improved design of a process, product or service
When defining a
repetitive work process
When planning data
collection and analysis in order to verify and prioritize problems or
Of course, adopting
ITIL spans all the above areas, so it makes sense to use PDCA for ITIL
adoption as well.
4 Steps to Improvement
PDCA is a four-step model for carrying out
change. Just as a circle has no end, the PDCA cycle repeatedly executes in
pursuit of continuous improvement.
Using the PDCA concept is straightforward.
It is a very simple yet powerful concept to coordinate your continuous
improvement efforts. It emphasizes and demonstrates that improvement
programs must start with careful planning, must result in effective action,
and must move on again to careful planning in a continuous cycle.
Use PDCA in team meetings to take stock of
what stage improvement initiatives are at, and to choose the appropriate
tools to see each stage through to successful completion.
The four steps of PDCA are:
- Plan. Recognize an
opportunity and plan a change. Establish the objectives and
processes necessary to deliver results in accordance with the
specifications. Use some form of brainstorming or cause and
effect diagramming (i.e., Ishikawa "fishbone") to determine the
- Do. Implement the
processes; test the change, often with a small-scale study.
- Check. Monitor and
evaluate the processes and results against objectives and
specifications and report the outcome. Review the test, analyze
results, and identify what you have learned.
- Act. Take action based on
what you learned in the check step. Apply actions to the outcome
for necessary improvement. Review all steps the (Plan-Do-Check-Act)
and modify the process to improve it. If the change did not work,
go through the cycle again with a different plan. If successful,
incorporate what you learned into wider changes. Use what you
learned to plan new improvements, beginning the cycle again.
An example helps make this clearer. In
this example, the practitioner desires to improve their Incident
Classification via use of diagnostics scripts. PDCA is the basic structure
for the strategic planning, needs analysis, script design and delivery,
staff goal setting and evaluation, provision of support services, and script
training. The example shows the continuous cycle of designing diagnostics
scripts and delivering them to staff. Improvement is not a separate
activity but rather built into the work process.
- Plan. In this step, the
practitioner examines and analyzes existing Incident Classification by
examining previous Incidents. Because PDCA does not specify how to
analyze data, a separate data analysis process may be used.
- Do. This example has two “do”
steps. The first “do” seeks to match Classification with a diagnostic
script. The practitioner plans the scripts by comparing what currently
occurs with the desired state. The second “do” trials the changed
process. Within set parameters, staff varies the usage of the script
based on each calls unique requirements.
- Check. The “check” step
includes formal and informal assessments taking place continually. If
assessments show the scripts are not performing as expected, the
practitioner can make changes such as re-instruction, changing the
script or more direct staff mentoring. Assessment data becomes the
input for the next step in the cycle.
- Act. The “act” step has the
goal of standardizing the change. When staff meets the goals, the
diagnostic script design and usage are standardized. Staff shares best
practices in formal and informal settings. Results from this cycle
become input for the “analyze” phase of the next cycle.
PDCA provides a framework for the
improvement of a process. It can guide the entire improvement project, or
to aid in developing specific projects based on identified target
PDCA is as a dynamic model. Completing one
turn of the cycle flows into the beginning of the next. This continual
cycle of change delivers ever-increasing improvement -- thus the name “ramp
You can apply the PDCA cycle to any
situation. The PDCA cycle aids in assessing what needs to change and
implementing an effective improvement plan.
FOCUS is an acronym for Find, Organize,
Clarify, Uncover, and Start. FOCUS sets the stage for PDCA. FOCUS PDCA
is then a nine-step process with five FOCUS steps, and 4 PDCA steps.
Using the FOCUS method with PDCA can help you achieve higher quality results
in less time.
The FOCUS steps are:
- Find an
opportunity or process for improvement. Answer the
question: What is wrong?
- Organize a team
that understands the opportunity and related systems or
processes. Answer the question: Who knows about this?
- Clarify the
current opportunity or process with Ishikawa
("fishbone") diagrams or other means. Answer the
question: What is involved?
the causes of the inappropriate activity or results.
Answer the question: Why isn't it working?
- Start the PDCA
cycle by choosing a single modification to the process.
Answer the question: Where should the change occur?
Using FOCUS helps you focus
(pun intended!) on the right things to address using PDCA.
Combining them into a nine-step process delivers an almost
fool proof PDCA result.
Try using the FOCUS method with PDCA.
Use tools and techniques such as Fault Tree
Component Failure Impact Analysis
Pareto Analysis and others to Plan to improve operations by determining
what is going wrong and developing potential solutions.
Use small groups and group management techniques to Do changes designed
to solve the problems on a small or experimental scale first. This
minimizes disruptions to routine work while the testing is underway.
Trend Analysis, Critical Success Factors
(CSF) and Key Performance Indicators
(KPI) are critical to Check if the small scale or experimental changes
are achieving the desired result or not. Continuously check key
activities (regardless of any experimentation) to assess output quality
at all times in order to identify new or potential problems.
If the experiment was not successful, skip the Act stage, go back to the
Plan stage to determine new ideas for solving the problem, and repeat
Act to document and implement the changes on a larger scale if the
experiment is successful. Standardize the changes and make the changes
the “new normal.” Involve stakeholders (staff, departments, suppliers,
or customers) affected by the changes whose cooperation you need to
implement on a larger scale.
PDCA can produce some amazing results --
but only if you use it, and use it properly! As mentioned earlier, most
executives claim they know how to use PDCA or a related QMS. Most
executives also claim they use such a system. However, in reality most
executives don’t actually follow the formal documented approach presented
here. Try to FOCUS on PDCA to improve some aspect of one of your
processes, you will be glad you did!
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