An Effective Way to Drive Improvement

Beau Groover

When I think of planning, I always remember a quote that is attributed to Abraham Lincoln. "Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening my axe." The point is that if you spend adequate time preparing to do the job, the job itself will go much smoother/better/faster.

There is a process for driving improvement and alignment called the PDCA cycle. PDCA stands for plan, do, check and act. It is a great approach to any business challenge. In very simple terms:


  • What do we want to do?
  • What do our customers want us to do?
  • Why is it important?
  • What are the steps we are going to use to actually move it?
  • What process will be needed? (Hint: Lean Six Sigma).


  • Communicate that the plan exists and why it is important.
  • Make the plan visual using graphs, charts and scoreboards.
  • Explain what the organization needs to do to be successful and clearly define what success “looks like.”
  • Execute the plan.
  • Chart where the progress is vs. where we want it to be.


  • Evaluate that the plan is yielding the results you intended.
  • Provide team updates and progress reports.
  • Include this on all monthly and quarterly reports.
  • Communicate and post the results to date on the visual boards.
  • Celebrate and communicate success as you find it.
  • Hold people accountable for the progress.


  • Refocus on areas where progress is not up to par.
  • Adjust the plan if the success isn’t in line.
  • Add or take away from the plans if/when the business needs change.

Throughout the year, there should be information moving through the organization from senior management to the shop floor and vice versa. As business needs change, some of the metrics and measures might also need to change. As the improvements are made, the results need to be included in the information being shared. This creates a very clear and reliable source of alignment to again reinforce the need to keep all resources pointed in one direction.

A few summarizing thoughts about using PDCA:

  1. This clarity of purpose will drive the organization to improve those key metrics that are most important to the customer.
  2. The alignment of the effort drives synergy, teamwork and ownership.
  3. The communication helps break down walls and focus the organization on the right parts of the business.
  4. The combination of these items will most certainly yield high-impact results.
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