Posted by: JC Gatlin | June 9, 2010

So why does PDCA sometimes feel like so much red tape?


PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Adjust) is about analytical thinking. It’s about defining a problem, getting to the root cause and taking actions that prevent the problem from ever coming back. So why in some circumstances does PDCA feel like so much red tape?

Because you’re mountain jumping.

PDCA is designed to prevent knee-jerk reactions to counter act a problem. In other words, PDCA stops mountain jumping. Which can feel very irritating when you can clearly see the other mountain and it feels so close and you know that if you just make this one leap…

So when you feel “blocked” by a PDCA or when you feel like  you have to “cut through red tape,” hit the pause button. Take a step back. Then ask — and honestly answer — these questions.

1.  Have you clearly defined the goal of the PDCA?

If the counter measure (say to reassign a Building Partner or to create a new marketing ad) is listed as the goal, then the PDCA is aimless. The goal is never to re-assign or to create; there’s a bigger picture that’s out of focus. For example, a goal is to improve (or sometimes just meet) cycle time deadlines. A goal is to increase lead generation or traffic to the model home.  Answer why you’re wanting to make a change. What’s the point? What are you trying to accomplish? The goal for this PDCA must be clear, otherwise the PDCA goes nowhere.

2. Does the PDCA include every position that either affects or is affected by the problem?

There’s a lot of examples of a proposed counter measure getting kicked-back to the PDCA group because it creates work for another person or department, or it complicates the process somewhere further down the value stream. One of the best ways to keep the PDCA group’s “eye on the big picture” is to put together a balanced team. Right up front, a little thought put into including the right team members can prevent the dreaded “needs more work”  when you get to counter measures.

3. Is this PDCA (or more directly, are YOU) just going through the motions

There’s a lot of times that a solution seems obvious and the PDCA process becomes more of a formality rather than true problem solving. Worse still, there are even more examples of the PDCA form becoming simply a formality to appease “a boss.” When this is the case, YOU’RE creating the red tape — not the PDCA, not the problem solving process and not the “boss” asking you to wring out the waste and improve the system. 

4. Is your ego holding you back?

You’re very good at your job. You’ve got experience. You’ve got skills. It’s only natural to have confidence in the decisions you make….  Now get over yourself before you  fall into The Pit of Self-Importance. (That’s a black hole filled with all the company’s long history of Executive Decisions and knee-jerk reactions made by people who were smarter and better looking. ) If you’re too close to the problem, you can’t see the forest for the trees. If you’re too high up the company ladder, you’re too far removed from the problem to really understand it. That’s why we (as in everyone, including you) follow a scientific methodology with a logical sequence of steps that eliminates the root of the problem (i.e. a fancy way of saying PDCA). Chances are, many people who filled your position in the past ran into similar problems, but their decisions addressed symptoms and conjecture.  You may even still be cleaning up their mess. Don’t align yourself with them. Be smarter than they were and take the time to PDCA.   

PDCAs that are forced, manufactured and ultimately pointless will always feel mired down in red tape. On top of that, it will always be easier to make decisions on the fly. There will always be a natural inclination toward knee-jerk reactions. And there will be times that you won’t feel like taking the time to really problem solve. There may even be times that you just go through the motions. When that happens, the PDCA process will feel like a whole lot of red tape. But understand: the process is actually working.

PDCA is designed to stop mountain jumping. It’s just not going to let you do it. So stop trying.

© June 2010 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bob Marshall, Brian Buck. Brian Buck said: "PDCA is designed to prevent knee-jerk reactions to counter act a problem." via @leanhomebuild […]

  2. I think that in point number 2, the PDCA group should include every position that either affects or is affected by the VALUE STREAM — not just the problem.

    Like in the Building Partner Reassignment example, the Construction Manager and Building Partner are affected by whatever the problem is, but the Production Planner processes the reassignment paperwork, so she may need to be included in the PDCA as wwell.

  3. Like to read that PDCA can feel like a red tape. In our practice I had so much discussion about the perception that PDCA will possibly kill creativity and innovation (in other words its stops mountain jumping). It is just not true, if someone feels so, he uses the PDCA cycle in the wrong way. Before and during the plan phase for example, one need a huge amount of creativity to foster good plans and let them flourish. By the way: the A in PDCA stands not for ‘adjust’ but ‘act’ualize.

    • Thanks for the reply. Glad to hear that we’re not the only company that has to fight that perception from time to time.

      People being “concerned” that PDCA will stifle creativity is a normal objection, especially when first introducing the concept. But actually brainstorming is one of the most important steps in the PDCA process. And if done correctly, PDCA eliminates mountain jumping and beta error, both of which are the opposite of being creative.

      As for the “A” in PDCA, you’re absolutely right. However, our Lean Sensei had us follow “Adjust” over “Act” to strengthen the idea that PDCA is a continuous loop.

  4. ไคเซ็น (Kaizen) คืออะไร…

    I found your entry interesting thus I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

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