January is always the time of year when organizations take the annual plans they have been developing and start to work on them. Or at least this is the time of year that organizations are supposed to begin working on their annual plans. In fact, to many organizations the annual strategic planning exercise is just that and once the plans are developed they are placed on a shelf where they gather dust until the perfunctory review at the end of the year. After the plans are made, the modus operandi is business as usual. This organization completes the Plan but never moves out into the Do part of the PDCA cycle.
Another thing I see is about this time of year is the plans are deemed to be in need of updating since something has changed and so the organization goes through an exercise of re-planning and will inevitably re-plan again later on in the year. This type of organization follows a Plan, Plan, Plan, Do cycle or a Plan, Do, Plan, Do, Plan, Do, cycle but again never gets into a PDCA cycle.
At least this is better than organizations that just Do, Do, Do with no Plan.
What we really want organizations to do is to complete the annual PDCA cycle which means that after we have completed the plan and get into the Do or implementation phase, we need to focus on the Check and Adjust process. In my experience this is the hardest part of the PDCA loop and the one that most organizations are the weakest at and therefore the process that needs the most strengthening.
The plan is a hypothesis:
- If we do these things in this timeframe, we will get this result.
The Check process tests the hypothesis, both the execution of the plan (the process) as well as the results. If either is off target, the organization launches problem solving. But how are we to know we’re off the plan unless we have a rigorous Check process and a rapid response to the problems raised as part of the Adjust or Act process.
No plan goes according to plan, something unforeseen always happens, and because of that, good Lean organizations understand the need for a quick checking process so they can respond rapidly to being off plan and an marshal the resources needed to solve the problems and get back on plan.
January – the time to get the year off to a good start by getting into implementing the plan via the Do phase. But just as importantly, the time to set up a Check process that allows us to see when we’re off the plan so we can respond with problems solving and get back on plan.