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Making process improvement your new business norm–How much planning is enough?

6/12/2014 at 8:47 am by

Have you noticed that project people tend to fall into one of two camps – planning vs. doing?

Planners conscientiously put together the perfect plan while the doers roll their eyes and point out that if the project had started with a little less planning, the project would be finished by now.

In contrast, Doers start projects with little or no planning. The Planners watch in horror as the Doers waste time on rework that could have been avoided if they had taken time to create a plan.

As with most things in life, the answer is balance–specifically, finding the right balance between enough planning and efficient doing. Fortunately, back in the 1950s, a guy named W. Edwards Deming defined a model that helps with this challenge and is still used in process improvement frameworks today.

PDCA – PLAN, DO, CHECK, ADJUST and repeat!

There are some variations in complexity and approach (some refer to the A as Act) but after using this model myself for the last 10 years, I break it down into a very practical, doable application like this:

1)     Create enough of a plan to provide some structure to your project (but probably not enough to fully satisfy the uber-planners).

2)     As you start executing on your plan (doing), also schedule a checking step with criteria to gauge progress and success.

3)     When the scheduled date arrives, have the team meet to check progress to plan.

4)     Adjust or refine your plan based on what you discover.

sage cre process improvement

The planners will be more likely to get on board because they view the scheduled checking step as a safety net to avoid going too far down the road without making sure you’re on track. It’s a built into the project opportunity to evaluate, “Is it working?”

The doers get on board because they aren’t forced to spend (they’ll say “waste”) a lot of time planning.

Profoundly simple

You’ll discover that PDCA is an easy and effective way to structure proof of concept or pilot tests when starting something new. By scheduling the check, you inherently limit the scope of the initial project or phase and also limit your risk. You’ll find your team is more comfortable getting started on a project (even without a perfect plan) because they understand that there will be ample opportunity to course correct along the way.

Tip: Be sure to actually schedule the checking step–don’t just “plan” to schedule it in the future. Projects have a way of picking up momentum and you could easily fly by the checking step and miss something important that needs to be adjusted.

Next article: We’ll wrap up this seven-part series by looking at some practical tips and tools you can use during your process improvement initiatives.

If you’ve missed previous articles in the series, check out how to take the first steps towards process improvement, build a process improvement team, take a process walk, search for waste, and focus on a phased approach.

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About the Author

Judi Magnuson is the senior director of Learning Services for Sage Construction and Real Estate with 32 years’ experience in customer support, training, and professional services. Judi is passionate about helping customers achieve process improvements through realistic and manageable plans, employee engagement, and the ongoing pursuit of incremental results

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