First, let me apologize to all the lean enthusiasts, maybe dead is the wrong word. Certainly Shakespeare isn’t dead to the literary world just as Deming isn’t dead to the continuous improvement world. However, there have been many modern takes on Shakespeare’s work so possibly Deming’s Plan Do Check Act could use a revisit given it’s been over 60 years since Deming started the equivalent of Beatlemania in the lean community. I’ll also apologize to the lean community because I did put a supply chain planning slant on this but it’s still something to think about whether you’re managing your supply chain or driving an improvement project (or both!). Let’s have a closer look.
Plan: Well I can’t dispute the planning part. “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Who said that again? Anyway, you certainly set objectives, expectations and targeted improvements in the plan phase. The one modern day caution would be the length of the planning cycle. With all the change in today’s supply chain, a plan is almost out of date the moment it’s complete. So if for example, your S&OP cycle takes a month, just think of everything going on that could influence inputs and the resulting plan. If we’re not stuck on a one word description for each step maybe plan becomes “Plan Now”. The one thing Deming did promote was testing possible effects as early as possible. This was really focused on process improvement but could also apply to planning demand and supply. There is huge value in “testing” demand increases or decreases to see impact before moving on to execution or the “Do” phase. If I may then, just add one more word to this phase it would be, “Plan/Simulate Now”.
Do: This is the money step. It’s execution; it’s the designing, production and delivering of product. It’s executing on the plan and improvement projects. It’s also collecting data for the next two steps. As Deming was arguably given credit for the quote, “In God we trust, all others must bring data”, much of this step is also about measuring. This is where the modern update may kick in. The PDCA cycle seems to be linear. While you execute, you collect your findings then after a certain period of time you check. Why can’t this be concurrent rather than linear? What if there is such a drastic change, perhaps a major engineering change, that any further execution would cause significant loss or risk? The common theme in the previous statements is “execute”. The word execute also has a more powerful connotation than “Do”. If somebody asks, “What are you doing?” How many times have you heard or said “not much”. You likely won’t get that answer when asked, “What are you executing on?” Of the four PDCA steps, this one really remains intact but since this is a blog about recommending change, I’ll go with “Execute”.
Check: Besides being the most popular thing you’ll hear when a band is doing their sound check, it’s also like unwrapping a present and finding out what you got. The hardest part is waiting. I was not a fan of the word because it seemed to imply you had to wait until the “Doing” was done. I preferred the word “Monitor”. Monitor implies you always have your finger on the pulse during execution and the moment something occurs that needs attention or is a significant anomaly, you don’t want to wait to “Check” results. Speed also adds value in this step. The sooner you can accurately understand the impact of expected results against target, the impact of change of implications of any deviations, the faster you can get to the next step. It is also important to note that not all data you collect may be needed, only that information that impacts expected results or causes unacceptable deviation. For the updated PDCA, “Check” now becomes “Monitor”.
Act: Act, as in react. Here you are, finally at the end of the PDCA cycle and you can finally decide if you need to do anything. What if you weren’t completely finished on reaching consensus on a plan? What if you were still executing or collecting data and something happened that warranted immediate attention and action? Act implies a reaction. A more competitive advantage would be a proactive approach to all of the above steps. For example, what if you could simulate in seconds during the planning phase to better predict and plan for unfavorable conditions. This is more of a response than a reaction, much like being prepared for the unexpected rather than being surprised. And if you did have to respond, much like in the planning phase, what if you could test and compare options in seconds and immediately understand the most profitable response. One underlying theme you may have picked up on is “Speed”. The ultimate goal of the PDCA cycle in terms of improvement initiatives is to do things better and faster but that also applies to the PDCA cycle itself. For the last step, the “Act” (reaction), becomes “Response”.
Looking at all those suggestions, Plan Do Check Act now becomes Plan/Simulate Execute Monitor Respond. OK, a few more words than before so if we imply you need simulation capabilities at all times you’ve got Plan Execute Monitor and Respond. I don’t know if Deming would approve but another Deming quote suggests the he might, “Rational behavior requires theory, reactive behavior requires only reflex action.”