I’m always looking for simple ways to explain lean concepts to my team members. I can’t remember if I picked up this idea from someone else, so let me know if I did, but for me, one of the most helpful things I’ve found is to say PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Adjust) should be like breathing. In other words, PDCA is to Lean what breathing is to human beings.
"What happens if you stop breathing?" I ask my team members. When I ask this, generally there’s a slight pause, then comes a smile and finally people reply, "You die." Yes, you die. And that is exactly what happens to Lean without PDCA. Lean thinking and practice is not something to be done from time to time. "Oh, we've got a juicy problem here, let's do some PDCA." It really should be the underlying thought process that supports all lean activity. Lean does not and cannot exist without continuous PDCA. Period.
Thinking about this more philosophically, there are interesting parallels between PDCA and breathing. They both are more effective and powerful the more deeply they are practiced. They both can be practiced actively and improved upon. However, they also function in the background without us much thinking about it. The more you practice each of these things properly—and yes, there’s a proper way to breathe—the more benefit you will receive. These things both can and should be taught. They aren’t easy to teach, however, since both (real PDCA and mindful breathing) go against our culture of rushing to get things done without really thinking about what we’re doing.
Breathing exercises might be part of every school's curriculum, and the same goes for PDCA. Proper breathing gives us increased energy, clarity, and an ability to focus, amongst other things. And hey, these are pretty good attributes to have when practicing PDCA! Scientists are beginning to look at how breathing and mindfulness impacts health… Perhaps it’s time to run some experiments that look at how shallow versus deep breathing impacts performance in the workplace. But I digress… Deep breath.
Please let me know if you find this useful and share any simple ways you have discovered for explaining PDCA or other lean concepts to your team members!