Posted by: JC Gatlin | October 20, 2009

Should you use PDCA to kill a snake?

We have an expression in our company — something originally told to us by our lean consultant Sammy Obara with the Honsha Associates.  He said, “You don’t need PDCA to kill a snake; just kill it.”

One of our recent PDCAs reminded me of this expression when we had some confusion with the title company. It seems a document used to communicate closing information had an outdated address for the title company, and a PDCA was initiated to correct this. The PDCA went something like this:

Problem: Closing notification form has incorrect address

Goal: Closing notification form has correct address

Point of Cause: Title company moved to a new location

Root Cause: No one updated the form used to schedule closings

Counter Measure: Update the closing notification form with the new address

This PDCA killed a snake. It completed an obvious task that needed to be accomplished. And, there is really no need to PDCA an obvious task such as updating someone’s address. Still, there was a PDCA to be done.

The outdated closing notification form actually created a series of problems: The Process Director had to correct several closing documents, and the Sales Professional had to make additional phone calls to the home buyer and the Realtor, who may have been confused by the misprint. And we don’t want that to ever happen again.

So, this was the deviation from standard (translation = “The Problem”). Normally, the document is printed and sent to the parties who use the info to schedule the closing, then everyone shows up at the appointed time and location, some paperwork is signed and the Home Buyer becomes a Home Owner. But in this instance, it didn’t happen that way.

That pesky outdated form created a lot of waste for a lot of people. It caused a problem. So the “closing notification form” is actually our Point of Cause. (Click here for more information about Problem vs. Point of Cause.) From there, we can mine down to the 5-Why Analysis, asking, “Why was the closing schedule form outdated?”

Which brings us back to our snake.

If we’re trying to bludgeon a snake with Plan-Do-Check-Adjust, hit the pause button. We may be confusing the problem with the Point of Cause. Ask, “How did the snake get inside in the first place? And are we taking measures to keep another snake from coming back?” At some point, information on that closing notification form will become outdated once again, and we’re going to get mighty tired of walloping snakes on the head.

© October 2009 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.



  1. The truth in your statement is overwhelming! We seem to feel simple “issues” don’t need a PDCA, but only because we seem to take our eyes off the ball – Point of Cause being the ball…….
    Excellent explanation about an ever re-occurring PDCA mishap.

    Leslie Day
    Homebuilding Partners, Inc.
    Forever Learning Lean

  2. Great article JC. I think it really highlights the problem of trying to go too fast. When we slow down for just a moment, we then look past the ‘one time, just fix it now’ solution, and start uncovering the true root causes which allow countermeasures that will prevent the problems from recurring.

  3. […] investigation, or when a great deal of problem investigatin and data collection would seem like overkill. But don’t use the Mini-PDCA as an excuse to mountain jump — you should never approach […]

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