The 5 biggest PDCA pitfalls | Opinion | Blog
PDCA is the ideal improvement method to continuously improve your processes and your financial results. This article highlights the 5 most important pitfalls to avoid.

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The 5 biggest PDCA pitfalls

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PDCA happens in every intelligent organization

Many organizations are paying more and more attention to PDCA and continuous improvement. That’s no surprise, because this powerful improvement method leads to much better results. PDCA is embedded in the heart of every intelligent organization.

If you want to successfully apply the PDCA methodology, you have to be cautious. There’s a slim margin for error. Employees have to be inspired and mobilized, feel appreciated, and be able to reflect on their actions. Without taking the right steps, the approach could fail, and your team might sour on the whole approach. Here, we’ve compiled the 5 biggest pitfalls to avoid when implementing PDCA.

1. Plan-Do, Plan-Do ad nauseum

The pattern of Plan-Do, Plan-Do keeps repeating itself. Check and Act are left behind. There’s always a new plan you can implement. The mistake here is not applying PDCA consistently. If you want to achieve the desired change, you have to complete the cycle, as quickly and as often as possible. You won’t make the most of PDCA by applying it once a year.

2. PDCA without Try and Test

This pitfall should be familiar to managers who like to stay in control (control freaks, if you will). They primarily see PDCA as a tool to plan and check the work. That leaves you with an approach that impedes progress, rather than one that solves problems. Those managers don’t want you to experiment, because it’s seen as being too risky. But Try and Test are essential to the Do and Check steps. Also, experimenting is essential to creating a sense of ownership of solutions to the bottlenecks that pop up daily in the workplace. And that sense of ownership is crucial to making progress together.

3. PDCA without a specific improvement goal

Too often, we still see organizations applying PDCA to help execute the regular process. This is the third pitfall. They may be looking for the missing link in the process. Then they add that missing link, so that the process functions as intended once again. Very useful, but it doesn’t contribute to the continuous improvement of processes. Without a specific goal for improvement in mind, PDCA doesn’t reach its full potential. But keep in mind that continuous improvement should be a standard part of the function.

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4. PDCA to implement a plan

This pitfall starts with a plan that came from the upper management echelons without any rhyme or reason. But the plan has already been defined from start to finish. Management will pull out all the stops to execute this plan no matter the cost, even if it turns out that the plan is based on erroneous assumptions. This also misses the point of PDCA. The workplace ends up having to contort itself into all kinds of awkward shapes to be able to implement the plan, or at least make it look like the plan’s been implemented. At the same time, they try to keep doing whatever’s actually useful. It’s exhausting and irritating, and it negatively affects morale and your bottom line.

5. PDCA without KPIs and data analysis

Maybe the most important pitfall: trying to kickstart PDCA without genuine KPIs. You’ll notice that the continuous improvement process rests on quicksand. You’ll keep sinking further down. Without KPIs, you can’t make good plans and set goals and targets. And you’re lacking the data to monitor and analyze the execution. The check conversation then misses the point completely, because you don’t even have the data to know if you’re right or wrong. You won’t get past generalizations. If you want PDCA to work as a precision instrument, you have to think carefully about your KPIs. They connect the steps to each other. And that’s the only way to complete the cycle.

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