PDSA is Part of Life, Make it Part of Your Work

Plan, do, study, adjust, or PDSA, can also be thought of as the improvement cycle. These four steps outline the problem-solving process that leads to improvement. Often people struggle with consistency in completing the cycle because they want to plan and do and then move on to the next problem.

The other day I was out enjoying some fly fishing on the beautiful Neshannock Creek in Volant, PA, and it hit me that the process of PDSA is embedded into so many things that we do every day (and is successful I might add). So why do we struggle in our work lives to practice PDSA consistently?

One of the reasons may be that we assume that PDSA must be a long, drawn-out process. Sometimes this is the case, especially when the problem is complicated. But often problems are not very complicated, and we go through the steps in PDSA easily. Let’s look at a scenario where one might do PDSA without even realizing it is happening.

First you make a PLAN (or prepare)

The planning step is where you should spend most of your time. Spending time here helps the other steps in the process go smoothly and can help produce more success as you work the problem at hand. During this step you would likely be going to the gemba, reviewing data, and perhaps talking with stakeholders to gather information.

When I go fly fishing I prepare first. I check the weather so I can pack the right gear. I also review the fishing report, which helps me choose my location. Once I arrive at my desired spot I put on my gear and select the best fly according to the information that I have reviewed.

Next you DO the plan

After a plan has been made the next step is of course to carry out the plan. In this step you simply follow everything that you set out and wait to see what results are achieved.

When thinking about my fly-fishing example, this is where I begin to fish. I cast my fly and wait to see if I get a bite.

Often you have to STUDY how the plan is working

Once you have implemented the plan, it is time to study it. This step seems to be where many people lose sight of the PDSA cycle and move on to the next thing. But this step is critical in problem-solving and improvement. This is where we check the measures of success that we set out in the plan to see if we achieved our goal.

If I didn’t study how my plan is working when I am fly fishing I would likely not catch very many fish. If the fish aren’t biting I don’t just pack up, go home and think, “Well, better luck next time.” I study the conditions around me. I look at the water to seeing if it is clear, how fast or slow it is moving, and I even look for insects. Considering all of these factors will help me in the next step of the PDSA cycle.

Then you make ADJUSTments to the plan

If your plan did not achieve the intended results it is time to make adjustments and try again. Use all of the data and information that you gathered in the study phase and determine what you can change to impact the results.

The fisherman in me takes all of the information I collected from looking at the water and my surroundings and comes up with a new plan for my set up. Maybe I need to move my location slightly or change the fly I am using, so I make those adjustments and I keep trying.

On this particular day I ended up switching my fly five times, showing that I used the PDSA cycle five times. Had I done what we so often do in our work while problem-solving I would have had an unsuccessful fishing trip and probably gone home more frustrated than relaxed. The study part is what is so important. To get a fish I needed the fly that worked best with all of the surrounding conditions. Selecting a different fly randomly may have taken longer to get a bite.

I encourage you to think about areas in your life that you use PDSA thinking with ease and use that example to keep yourself on the path of following all the steps in the process and not falling into the pattern of plan, do, plan, do.

I would love to hear your examples. Please share them in the comment section below.


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2 Responses to PDSA is Part of Life, Make it Part of Your Work

John Gallagher says: 06/03/2021 at 7:34 am

The PDSA cycle I am always running in my head is the morning ritual of making coffee! I think adding a reflection / Hansei to my own personal example would be helpful! Thanks for sharing, Chris

Chris Weisbrod says: 06/03/2021 at 8:37 am

Your welcome John and thanks for reading. Also, as a fellow fan of different types of coffee brewing techniques, I’d be interested to hear more about your morning ritual.


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