I’ve recently had the privilege of revisiting some tools and techniques that I first learnt way back in the 1980’s working for a Dupont manufacturing division.
After world war II the USA sent a working party to Japan to assist in reconstruction following the devastating blows of the two atomic bombs that ended the war in the East. Amongst that team was a gentleman by the name of Edward Deming. Deming liked the numbers, he might well have been a blue analytical type of guy, so his focus was very logical, data driven as he worked with a host of Japanese manufacturers to improve quality. What happened next is well know. Japan took over the world of manufacturing to become the dominant world provider of everything from washing machines to cars, and they were good! In fact much better than those products that the West were delivering. Many old USA and English brands started to suffer and often died; names like Hillman, Triumph, Norton all lost out massively to the awesome quality of Honda, Yamaha and others. While the West had become lackadaisical with quality, Japanese manufacturing was delivering incredible quality and reliability across sector after sector.
It was the mid 70’s before the West started to take some of it’s own medicine and by the 1980’s many of us within the sector were being trained in TQM (Total Quality Management), a range of tools and techniques that had been developed and refined in the East.
This past year we’ve been working with a very exciting client (that is a high precision bespoke manufacturer) and we were asked to help develop skills with some of these traditional improvement tools. Amongst them we included PDCA.
PDCA is a very simple improvement process that can be used as a planning tool to smoothly implement what we’re doing, and to learn from what we originally set out to do. Here are each of the stages:
Plan for improvement
At the start of this cycle we begin with some planning, but not only how are we going to do something, but also how could we improve it straight away?
Some good questions at this stage might include:
- How will we do what we need to do?
- What are the expected outcomes?
- What can improve our plan?
- How will we capture the good and bad things that happen along the way?
Simply we follow the plan, but we also deliberately capture the good and bad things that happened along the way. This is often missing as a proactive step, which limits any ability to review effectively afterwards.
Check the result and review
Having completed one cycle we can check we might ask:
- What worked well, what didn’t?
- How did what actually happened differ from our plan?
- What lessons can we learn and what actions should we take based on these lessons?
Act to improve
The final stage is to incorporate the lessons learned in what we do next, and the cycle can start over again and again.
As simple as this process seems, it has stood the test of time and delivers improvement every time. The beauty of PDCA is also that it can be applied in so many different situations. Constant incremental improvement is a continuous requirement that stops us going backwards/loosing out to the competition and so it should be a key focus for us all