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The Problem With PDCA

As a small business owner, I have one luxury that most managers and employees in companies don’t have. When I go through the PDCA cycle, there are no competing agendas. Everything that is good for the owner (me) is also good for the manager (also me).

For many situations, though, that automatic alignment does not exist. Frequently, there are many players in a project, and they each have their own set of goals. That is the biggest weakness of the PDCA cycle. And it is the root cause of a great many failures in problem solving efforts. Misaligned expectations are the kryptonite of the Deming Cycle.

Fortunately, when there is a trusting relationship between the parties involved, they can identify the competing goals in the Plan phase of the cycle. The problem comes, though, primarily when employees don’t trust their bosses enough to tell them what they want out of a project, or when bosses hold goals back because they think the real motivation will upset the team.

In both cases, the PDCA cycle starts rolling along. But somewhere along the way, the efforts lose buy in. Team members don’t commit to the ‘Do’ phase. Managers check the project against the secret goals, and confuse the team when they ask for more changes. Ultimately, the lack of shared goals prevents the resolution of the problem.

So what should you do about it? Well, the long-term answer is that you need to build trust between the various layers of the company. But in the short term, the key is to be crystal clear when goals are set. Spell out specifically what success looks like, and the later discussions will be far more fact-based than if there are vague definitions of what a solution is. That focus on data eliminates debate.

Another tip: Make sure that the goals benefit more than just the company. Sure, the employees are getting paid, but if you want full commitment from the team, the frontline workers need to feel like they are getting more than just a paycheck. Focus on removing frustration, eliminating hard parts of the job, and getting them help when they need it, and the teams will be more likely to really put their hearts into making the PDCA cycle work.


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Share Your Thoughts    |2 comments|


  • Joseph Dager says:

    Good comments Jeff.

    I would like to take it in another direction. If you can tie the PDCA improvement effort to the marketplace/customer it will even add a stronger desire for completion. There is nothing like seeing the needle move there to get leadership further engaged. Also employees will see a further validation of their efforts.

    • Jeff Hajek says:


      Thanks for the comments. I loved what you said about the results validating the efforts.

      Teams want to do well. Give them better tools for their job (i.e. a strong, customer-focused understanding of PDCA), and their success will breed more success.


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