Posted by: JC Gatlin | November 30, 2009

Managing a full PDCA WIP (Work In Process)

One of our Construction Professionals recently asked me, “How do I manage all my PDCAs? I simply don’t have time to complete them all.” He’s currently the leader on two PDCA groups. He has 4 PDCAs addressing warranty issues. 4 PDCAs from FTQ inspection sheets and 8 PDCAs on building process & Building Partner issues. He’s working on a PDCA with the Production Planners on take-offs for a new floor plan. He’s working with the Sales Professionals on 2 sales related PDCAs.  Plus, he has 19 PDCAs that require follow-up. On top of all this, he’s got a waiting list of waste and other problems that he’d like to PDCA but just hasn’t gotten to yet — and all these numbers keep growing.

I can’t get my arms around all these PDCAs,” he said. “I feel like I’m drowning.”

That can’t be uncommon – and he’s not the first Teammate to express this. So, I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. How do you manage a full PDCA WIP? Well, you start with perception.

1. Understand where the pressure is coming from.

You’re not trying to get your arms around a full PDCA WIP; you’re getting your arms around runaway problems and rampant waste.

PDCA is about problem consciousness. Before we began learning about, practicing and implementing lean principles, we weren’t aware of recurring problems and waste. We simply reacted and jumped to work-arounds and fixing symptoms. We were ignorant of wasted resources, time and money.  

But you can’t put the genie back in the bottle — once you’re aware of it, you see it everywhere.

2. Understand that PDCA is a tool – not a task.

Like scheduling is an inseparable component of the homebuilding process, so is problem solving. To improve cycle time and reduce building errors, defects and rework, you’ve got to constantly improve. You do that using Kaizen and PDCA.

All of the problems that the Construction Professional is trying to get his arms around exist whether or not he’s working PDCAs. He’s drowning in waste, not PDCAs.

3. Measure problems, not PDCAs.

That Construction Professional is not trying manage 19 PDCAs — he’s eliminating 19 problems. Remember, the point. You’re eliminating waste and other problems preventing you from achieving a goal. And, you’re using PDCA to do that.

Keep a progress log of recurring problems in the back of your manual. This will not only help you organize and get your arms around it, but will show improvement. You probably don’t even realize how much progress you’ve already made. Looking back 6-months, 12-months, 18-months later, you’ll see problems that no longer plague you. Recognizing this success is crucial. Otherwise you may feel like you’re simply spinning your wheels.

Keeping a written  log of problems will make connections visible. Many problems are symptoms of the same root cause. Once you identify and eliminate that root cause, many recurring problems will disappear, reducing your WIP.

4. Schedule time dedicated to problem solving.

In the conversation with the Construction Manager, I found that he organizes his day so that he is updating his construction schedule for 30 minutes in the morning, and then again after the afternoon walk of his houses. He schedules “Scheduling Time” in his day. Scheduling dedicated problem solving time is no less important.

Make time for strategic thinking. This is when you’ll analyze what’s going on in your community. Work PDCAs with Building Partners and fellow Teammates. Sharpen your problem solving skills by reading books and articles, or doing Internet research. Record recurring problems in your log. But you must schedule this time because it’ll be easy to sacrifice it for something else.

In the end, this is probably the most important step of all…

Schedule it in your Outlook calendar, right now….. Yes, right now. Stop reading this blog and schedule it…. What are you still doing here? I’m serious. Minimize this window and schedule problem solving time.

© November 2009 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo



  1. When both the art and the point being made is great — it makes for a fabulous read!

    The pictures define the issues, and the issues define reality – reality of trying to cement a culture where PDCA is habit not work. Where it starts to release the stress not add to it!

    Great read, great point, slowly we will get there….

  2. You’re comparison to a critical task in the success of the job – scheduling – of a Construction Manager is right on the money and equivalent to a Sales Professional’s success hindering on building top notch realtor relationships.

    Why does a Construction Manager have to schedule promptly? To be able to close homes in a timely manner so the company can recognize revenue and make money.
    Why does a Sales Professional have to call on realtors so they can bring in prospective homebuyers? To sell more homes that can generate revenue and help the company make money.

    Why do all Teammates need to spend time on Problem Solving (PDCA)? To reduce defects, improve cycle time, reduce expenses and remove barriers to selling homes so that the company can generate more revenue and make money.

    The time is unquestionably well spent. If we weren’t problem solving, then wouldn’t it likely be “something else” that occupied our time that made us feel “busy”. The answer is OF COURSE. That’s the challenge in any business. And like any problem, it’s a challenge that always has an answer.
    So, take Mr. Gatlin’s advice. I will too.

  3. […] on an article about managing a full PDCA WIP (Work in Process) from last fall, it’s really hard to tell if we’ve seen any improvement. I asked a few Teammates […]

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