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Is PDCA the Right Tool for Leaders in 2022?

Plan-Do-Check-Act circle that connects back to Plan with Continuous Improvement? in the middle of the circle.
Credit: Elnur/Shutterstock

Since the 1950's, PDCA has been accepted as a premier tool for improvement. However, I contend that this tool is incomplete for the challenges leaders (and organizations) face in 2022.

As stated in a recent blog posting on CEO challenges for 2022, CEOs must both provide organizational focus and reinvent the organization at the same time. It is central to the opportunity and challenge senior leaders face to focus on the vital few areas that will create impact, while simultaneously keeping an eye on constant reinvention to continue to create and achieve positive impact.

With the need to both focus on the vital few and reinvent for the future, I would propose that "PDCA" has become more complex. My proposal is ArSrPARr, where r stands for reflect. ASPAR is Analyze-Synthesize-Prioritize-Act-Review. The whole cycle must be accomplished with efficiency, effectiveness, and times for reflection.

ArSrPARr, where r stands for reflect. ASPAR is Analyze-Synthesize-Prioritize-Act-Review. The whole cycle must be accomplished with efficiency, effectiveness, and times for reflection

ASPAR and r

Analyze

Analyze the organization's current plans, priorities, challenges, advantages, and the external environment. Make sure to consider the risk landscape, your industry's competitive environment, and what is happening in adjacent industries.

Synthesize

Develop a coherent picture that describes one or multiple scenarios based on synthesis of the information from your analysis.

Prioritize

Prioritize your short-term actions based on the synthesized information or the likeliest scenario, if there are multiple possibilities. Develop a sense of priorities for the longer term based on your chosen path.

Act

Act with decisiveness. Allocate resources (financial, people, facilities...). Set milestones and develop metrics.

Review

Measure progress. Check if you are reaching your intended milestones and goals.

reflect

At each of the "reflect" points, consider if you are drawing logical and defensible conclusions. This is also the time to see if any disruptive changes have occurred that require going from focus to further reinvention. Make sure you purposefully schedule time to carry out these reflections. Reflection needs devoted thought time. Consider conducting reflections alone and with your key team members.

Leadership from a Baldrige Perspective and reflection

The Baldrige Excellence Framework® provides two significant components for considering leadership reflection. The first is the Baldrige core value of visionary leadership. The core value states that leaders are responsible for ongoing organizational success. This includes creating strategies, stimulating innovation, managing risk, and ensuring resilience. Embedded in all these responsibilities is the necessity to analyze, synthesize, prioritize, act, review, and reflect. In upcoming revisions to the framework, the need to reflect might be given specific mention.

Within item 1.1 of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence®, the last area is about creating a focus on action, including the requirement to identify needed actions, deploy those actions, and demonstrate personal accountability for those actions. The accompanying item note details some of the considerations for a focus on action and might benefit from a specific mention of the need to reflect.

The Baldrige Criteria are accompanied by scoring guidelines, with ranges that reflect the organization's maturity in addressing the Criteria questions. I contemplated reflection as a maturity consideration. However, I believe reflection to be a necessity at all levels of maturity. Therefore, I don't believe reflection belongs in the scoring guidelines.

A Final Thought

Much has been written about leadership reflection time. I believe ASPAR provides a logical approach to sharpening reflection time. As a system, ArSrPARr should provide a framework for focus and reinvention. Let me know what you think and what your experience is.
 


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About the author

Harry Hertz “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon”

I am Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon, and Director Emeritus of the Baldrige Program. I joined the Program in 1992 after a decade in management in the analytical chemistry and chemical sciences...

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Comments

Yea! yes! And yes! Having worked with PDSA (C) in education for 22 years, our P has included all of your thoughts because no improvement can exist outside of the overall mission , vision, values supported by data and information. Alignment with leadership vision to every work process in the organization is crucial. Thank you for this capture!!!!!

Greetings Harry. Please excuse that fact that I haven’t finished reading all 17 articles from your May 31 post, but thanks for the pointers. Lots of reflections going on there.

It looks like you might have been empathetically channeling “The Man from Olympus” by finding that specific [Criteria requirements] “have penumbras, formed by emanations from those, that help give life and substance" to unenumerated requirements derived from The Core Values. The “new improved” 5 Step (+ 4 Reflection Steps) in the “ASPAR and r” model seems also to be “penumbras formed by emanations from” PDCA.

Has the ASPAR+r model been field tested by anyone?

Barry,

Thanks for your comments and congratulations on abandoning Texas in favor of Mt. Olympus! I would suspect that many leaders have subconsciously practiced ASPAR+r for years and more so recently. Although not necessarily verbalizing it until now, I have used ASPAR+r for many years. I was "famous" for using my yard tractor mowing time for analyzing, synthesizing.... and reflecting while I was BPEP Director. It led to many Monday morning discussions at work!

Should be PDSA. What we are looking for is Continual improvement, not continuos i provement. Taking a Systems approach starting with the larger Systems on which you operate.

26 July 2022 - ASPAR and r. I grasp the embedded concepts, and I like it. I am, however, curious as to the degree to which organizational leaders are willing to devote time to these elements. I would hope so, and perhaps there is reason to believe this is already "going on" in our more successful high-performance organizations. Good thinking, Harry.

'Is PDCA the best tool' has been plaguing me too, for decades. Have a look at The Cynefin Framework. It's much more than a 'decision making tool' (as described in the 2007 HBR article), and I prefer the headers 'Explore, Expertise, Execution (E3)', rather than 'Complex, Complicated, Simple'. Organisational excellence is the outcome of optimising E3 and PDCA can be useful within each E.

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