“The solution is obvious.  Just Do It!”

This expression is often heard in the field of process improvement.  The yearning for speed and simplicity of a Just Do It (JDI) approach is understandable.

Just as problems vary in complexity and difficulty, so do the solutions we seek to correct them. Sometimes process solutions are elusive; eventually discovered after exhaustive work to analyze root causes and research/generate potential solutions. Likewise, some solutions are surprisingly simple; revealing themselves with minimal analysis and investigation.

There is no shortage of methodologies designed to uncover and remedy the root causes of the problems we face on a daily basis; from the robust, multifaceted Six Sigma DMAIC approach to the deliberately simple Just Do It (JDI) approach. The key competency in process improvement is not necessarily found in the utilization of any one methodology, but rather in the recognition of how to best approach any given problem.

JDI is an approach often employed to correct process problems when “the solution is known.” This approach is favored by some for its ability to make a quick decision and begin implementation immediately. As humans tend to prefer quick fixes, JDI has found a comfortable place among many of today’s organizations striving for operational excellence. The problem with JDI when taken literally, however, is that its attractiveness as a means for immediate gratification results in its misuse in situations that are more complex than first appear. When organizations plow ahead without full consideration of how well the change will work and provide the desired results, the impact may be minimal or in some cases deliver an adverse outcome.  Potential risks should be considered with any planned change.  Some may be technical risks, meaning the solution does not work as well as designed.  Others may be change management risks where change adoption does not occur as intended.

PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act), on the other hand, is designed to not only reveal causalities and solutions, but is performed step by step in a cyclical manner, each stage in turn supporting its successor. PDSA changes can be thought of as an experiment to reveal if the planned solution will work as desired or expected.  Because of the planning step, goals are known and contingencies are in place if the desired result is not achieved.  PDSA cycles can be repeated until the actual change matches the desired result.

Listed below is a summary of each of the four steps of PDSA and how they work with one another in tandem.

  1. Plan: This beginning stage, as its name suggests, is where desired changes are stated and plans are initiated in a clear, concise format. This stage serves as the foundation of PDSA, and it is here that guidelines are established to ensure that individual and team activities adhere to the established goals of an organization.
  2. Do: This second stage is where actions are carried out in an experimental manner, including documenting all problems and observations as well as preliminary data analysis.
  3. Study: Step three is relegated to the overall analysis of data collected from the preceding step. These analyses are then compared to the predictions established at the onset of this cycle, along with a summary of all confirmed information.
  4. Act: Finally, this last stage is where teams decide what, if any, further changes need to be made to bring about the desired solution. Then, if necessary, the cycle repeats itself. Successful experiments become the basis for institutionalizing a process change.

Unlike JDI, PDSA accounts for potential risks and failures at the start, and is designed to remedy setbacks that may occur during the change process. JDI may be a tempting solution due to its possibility for immediacy. But to safeguard against the likelihood of errors and hindrances along the way, PDSA ensures a much more thorough evaluation of any problem at hand, even those that seem so evident at first glance.

When coaching process improvement initiatives in your organization, be sure that your teams and practitioners are diligent in planning and testing solutions using PDSA.

About Er Ralston

Er Ralston is an accomplished coach, trainer, and advisor, specializing in business process excellence, strategic and tactical business planning, Lean management systems, Six Sigma improvement methodology, and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria for performance excellence. Er brings more than 30 years of experience in numerous operations and quality leadership interventions. He is a Lean expert and certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt.