This is probably the best known quality idea. It’s sometimes called the Deming cycle but Deming refused to accept credit and usually referred to it as the Shewhart cycle, having learnt it from his mentor, Walter A. Shewhart. (In fact, Deming credited many of his ideas to his mentor).
I suspect even Shewhart wouldn’t accept credit if he could be asked as it’s such a fundamental idea. I remember when I first read about it I had one of those “Ahh” moments – you know, when you realise something you’ve been doing because it made sense is actually an officially recognised technique.
- Plan what you are going to do.
- Do it.
- – these first two steps are drummed into new scuba divers with the phrase: Plan the dive, then dive the plan. Fail that and you may be on your last dive…
- Check what you’ve done, measure the outputs and analyse. Did it turn out as you expected? Are there any ways to improve it?
- Act on your new information and update your plan.
Easy – innit? As I said, it’s probably so obvious we don’t (or rarely) consciously think about it. Yes, we always check the outcome of our work and adjust our methods for the next time. Yet I wonder how much better off we would be if we were more conscious of it – it’s one of those many simple techniques we need to stop passing off as “done that and got the T-shirt!”
It’s not just a tool for the big projects, it’s also vital in the small tasks, too. I expect most folk reading this keep a diary of sorts – by that I mean a reminder of upcoming dates and not a journal. Computer diaries are gradually replacing the journal and our life records go into Facebook and its ilk. But these methods take away some of the immediacy and ready access of a paper journal – yes, you can search the electronic versions but you need to remember to search, unlike a paper version that includes all those random random jottings. Both paper and electronic systems need discipline. When we review and decide a change is needed, we need to make sure we note it down where it will remind us when we need the reminder…