Improvement Kata Part 4 – How to Get There


In the Improvement Kata Handbook the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) method is used to work toward achieving your next target condition.  The path to achieve your next target condition should not be obvious and require experimentation to get there.  Progressing to the target condition now boils down to iterative ingenuity and receptiveness for adapting to new circumstances.

The PDCA method is basically a form of the scientific method.  You form a hypothesis based on what you currently know.  You execute an experiment to test that hypothesis.  You analyze the results from your experiment.  Did you get the results you expected?  If not, then why not?  You use those results and new information to update your current understanding.  Then you plan the next experiment or work on setting your next target condition.  It’s a process of trial and error and then applying what we have learned.

3 Key Points About PDCA:

  1. “Surprise” is often how PDCA helps you learn and improve. It’s the unexpected results that often teach us the most and help us to innovate.  “If the result confirms the hypothesis, then you’ve made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery.” Enrico Fermi
  2. Rapid and frequent PDCA cycles = more learning. The more testing you do, the more learning opportunities you have.  The ideal is to do daily small experiments.
  3. Every step will not bring a measurable benefit. The path to the target condition will not be a straight line.  Some experiments will “fail” but allow you to learn something new that can be applied toward meeting your target condition.

The 5 Coaching Kata Questions:

  1. What is the target condition?
  2. What is the actual condition now?
    1. What was your last step?
    2. What did you expect?
    3. What actually happened?
    4. What did you learn?
  3. What obstacles do you think are preventing you from reaching the target condition? Which *one* are you addressing now?
  4. What is your next step (next PDCA/experiment)? What do you expect?
  5. When can we go and see what we have learned from taking that step?

Examples of 3 different kinds of PDCA experiments:

  1. Go and See. Direct observation and data collection, without changing anything, to learn more about a process or situation.
  2. Exploratory Experiment. Introducing a change in a process to see, via direct observation, how the process reacts. Done to help better understand the process.
  3. Testing a Hypothesis. Introducing a change together with a prediction of what you expect to happen.

Expect to hit obstacles and challenges along the way.  Don’t give up.  Try to adopt the mindset that each obstacle you face is a new opportunity to experiment and innovate.

*Illustration by Bill Costantino

Author: Joyce A Gustafson

Passionate about continuous improvement, "working out loud", and constantly learning. Reviving this blog after a long absence. Recently moved to Maine and loving it! NOTE: This is my personal blog and the thoughts and opinions are my own. This blog does NOT represent the view and opinions of my employer

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