How Long is “Continuous”? – On PDCA

VultureCartoon-newSome people have problems with anything that requires patience: they want it all, and they want it now, as Queen was once singing. What does PDCA mean to them?

Actually, PDCA should be the darling of these people, as it will almost for certain lead to getting something almost now, and in the long run they will get all that is possible to get out of it. A traditional project will in any case take a long time and most likely fail.

But still, “continuous” sounds like “endless” and this idea seems too difficult to grasp for a lot of people. That is why you might see recommendations to use PDCA just once, meaning P, D, C and a symbolic A just one time each – as the project model for a linear approach. Or as something you can do inside of a project, ending, of course, when the project ends.

What is it that makes “le longue durée” so difficult to grasp for business people? Well, for once, the very idea of capitalism has an influence: investors bet their savings on the company success and they are eager to hear what is happening, how their money is growing, so they want quarterly reports.

Quite a lot of things can be hung up on the idea of quarterly reports – so much, that in some companies it is impossible to run any larger projects at all, and even small ones should preferably fit into a quarter. Others can handle a full fiscal year but not more.

I guess that this is putting things a bit on the edge, but something like this is in play.

What is even worse is that when a real change process is initiated, the company will have prepared itself mentally on a lengthy process. So for a while no results are expected, but after some time people start getting impatient and some will require that the low hanging fruits are harvested, that results must be reported monthly etc., and soon a new manager will be put in charge of speeding up this process that seemingly have slowed down.

impatience 2Tragically, all this happens before those x years have passed, which everybody agreed from the beginning that this would at least take. And even more tragically, the new hunt for quick results will more often than not kill the process.

The reason is quite simple: while the change agents are working with gaining acceptance, explaining the new ideas and initiating initiatives around the organization, colleagues will slowly get used to this new thing being around.

They will see that it doesn’t hurt and that the agents are doing good work on developing the shape that fits exactly this organization – but then, suddenly, the approach makes a shift and they will be forced to use the new procedures, make different new reportings (often in parallel with the old ones) and more, all based on unfinished idea work. And this will ruin the whole effort.

Continuous-Improvement-Cycle-Web-FullA much better way is then to use the friend of the impatient, PDCA. Or any other shape of continuous improvement, but as they can all be boiled down to PDCA we can just as well stick to that name.

Done right, PDCA will be introduced as a cultural habbit – not a project, not something that must be done by force, but a way of working on an everyday basis. It must become operations rather than a project. Used right, there will be something good to harvest from each cycle, which should teach the impatients that they just need to wait a short while to get more – and more, and more. This way they will sooner or later understand the benefits gained from this approach.

The fact that their own impatience was to blame in the first place and that many other approaches could have worked, had the circumstances been better, might never appear to them. But never mind – PDCA saved the day, the quarter, the fiscal year, and beyond.

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