PDCA Cycle: When common sense is uncommon


Rey ElboIN several ways, educational establishments and asylums are both mental institutions. An individual must show some improvements to graduate. The same thing must happen if people and organizations understand the PDCA (plan-do-check-act) Cycle. Essentially, PDCA is a continual improvement model that goes by several names. The Japanese call it the “Deming Cycle” after W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993), the American genius who taught them the dynamics of quality improvement.

However, Deming himself referred to PDCA as the “Shewhart Cycle” after his mentor, Dr. Walter Shewhart (1891-1967). In the Western world, it is simply called the PDCA. On the other hand, the Japanese have localized PDCA by using the term “Kaizen” or more specifically “GembaKaizen” (continual improvement in the workplace).

In the Philippines, how do you propose to localize the PDCA to make it perfectly understood even by the unschooled? The first thing that came to my mind was “walang katapusang pag-unlad” except that it sounds like more of an economic term.

But no, let’s not add to the confusion. Having too many interpretations about a simple theory like the PDCA bothers me a lot. Why not? Let me explain. There was a man who came home early from work and saw his pre-school children on the front steps and asked what they were doing. “We’re playing church activities,” the kids answered.

The puzzled father inquired further and was told: “Well, we’ve already sung, prayed and preached. And now we’re outside on the steps smoking cigars.”

Like the kids in our story, I believe that many people have misinterpreted the PDCA Cycle since the time Deming presented it to his Japanese audience in the 1950s. Except for the Japanese that have continued to faithfully follow the PDCA in accordance with its letter and spirit, I’ve seen and personally heard non-Japanese, even those in the “quality movement” practice the opposite of “continual improvement.”

Many of them cling to Jurassic rules and justify them by saying it is part of a “cherished tradition,” whatever it means that they don’t want to change it anymore. OK, fine, whatever—tradition is important if it is contributing much to an organization’s progress. If not, this generation must drop it, in the same manner that we had to stop using telegrams, typewriters and overhead projectors in our offices and factories.

Well, I’m saying this after observing many people in my business circles who tried without much success to contradict my progressive ideas. They are mostly middle-aged corporate guys and gals, some semi-retired doing consultancy work, and others who would want to stay relevant are constrained to join management clubs because their parish priests think they’re not yet ready to become lay leaders.

Doing volunteer work is an exciting opportunity to meet a lot of people who at times would unwittingly show their ignorance about certain management strategies. You’ll get the biggest surprise of your life when you hear certain high-ranking corporate officials talking nonsense, even at the risk of showing their illiteracy just for the sake of giving an opposite view to practically anything.

I mean, why can’t these people remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubts? Are we missing something here?

Anyway, whatever makes these people drive that way, there’s nothing you can do against them. You can honk at them, but it will have no effect. I am familiar with this problem because my office base is in Makati, which proudly bills itself as the new owner of Bonifacio Global City where motorists pretend to obey traffic rules.

My point is that there are many reasons why we can’t ignore the PDCA. It’s the common-sense approach to elevating one’s standards. And if we’re going to be competitive, we all need to keep on looking for hundreds, if not thousands of new ideas to keep us going with the help of ordinary workers. Like most shark species which must continue to swim to stay alive, people and organizations must also do the same thing—create new things, if not make old product models better than before.

I can’t use this column to advertise my consultancy, so I won’t specify how many organizations had contracted my services to pay me big money to help them discover they can solve workplace problems by using low-cost, common sense strategies.

But let me tell you this, it’s not easy serving as a consultant with so many clients who can’t understand why I’m prescribing common sense to solve even the most difficult problem in this planet.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook or Linked In for his random management thoughts.


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