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PDCA: The Scientific Method or the Artistic Process?

by Karyn Ross
September 5, 2013

PDCA: The Scientific Method or the Artistic Process?

by Karyn Ross
September 5, 2013 | Comments (5)
Karyn Ross

Untitled (For Sakichi Toyoda), 2010. Photo, pins, string and paper.

I work to support lean transformation in corporate America, so when I tell people I have a MFA in sculpture, I'm used to the odd glances that I receive and the questions that generally follow: "Sculpture? You studied art? How could that possibly be useful for helping people improve business processes?" Or, one of my favorite questions, "Wasn't studying art a waste of time?"

In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. And here's why.

In Lean, we are used to thinking about PDCA, the PLAN – DO – CHECK –ACT/ADJUST cycle, taught by Dr. W. Edwards Deming, as the scientific method of "hypothesis, experiment, and evaluate," developed by 17th century scientist, Francis Bacon. Teaching PDCA to team members gives them both a standard way to think about problems, and a standard, "scientific" method to solve problems. But it also does something else, something I believe is even more important: the consistent use of PDCA thinking develops our team members' (and our own) creativity and creative problem-solving ability. And this is where the scientific method runs headlong into the artistic process.

Because what do artists do? What is the real "work" of artists? Artists combine knowledge and information gained from their experiences in the world to come up with new ideas. PLAN. Then they use whatever medium they work in, whether it's clay, steel, wood, or canvas and paint, to turn these new ideas they "see" in their minds into reality. It's something new and different every time. DO. Then the artist steps back and evaluates how closely the piece reflects the idea they had in their mind. CHECK. And finally, because the finished piece, that new reality, never totally captures what was "seen" in their imagination, artists use the new information they gain from the experience of making art to generate new ideas for pieces. ACT/ADJUST.

Karyn Ross
(Left) Empty Half Full, 2013. Glass bottles, pins, needles, string, rice, fortunes, photos and a Toyota Tercel key.
(Right) Self-portrait, 2010. Spools of thread, pins, needles.

With each new work, artists reflect the old way of thinking and doing things while creating a new way of thinking and doing things.

Figuring out how to make a sculpture balance so that it can stand, and figuring out how to make a business process more visible and efficient require the same type of creative thinking ability: the ability to see the work and solve problems by coming up with new ideas. In order to solve problems in business, big or small, we need to teach our team members how to use their imaginations, think creatively, and generate new ideas using knowledge and information that they already have. The best way to do this is by modeling and teaching PDCA, the scientific method and artistic process.

Albert Einstein said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." When we develop our team members' creative problem-solving ability by teaching them PDCA, we give them the ability to generate new ideas and solve problems in new and creative ways.

So what do you think? Is PDCA the scientific method? The artistic process? Or both?

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  lean musings,  PDCA
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5 Comments | Post a Comment
Ishaka Yakubu September 06, 2013
1 Person AGREES with this comment
In my own opinion, PDCA is a scientific way of carrying out efficiency in any piece of challenges in the workplace, large or small. Hence, it looks more accurate to conclude that being scientific and being artistic are just two terms that are interwoven in the description of PDCA Ishaka Yakubu Graduate, M.Sc. Operations, Project and Supply Chain Management Manchester Business School, The University of Manchester.

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Gregg September 11, 2013
PDCA/PDSA are part of the scientific method's hypothesis

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Irene Johansen September 19, 2013

Bang on!  I'm in a similar position. I have a Master of Arts in Music Theory and Composition. What does that have to do with business, or lean transformation?

Musicians learn. They learn new music, every day. They learn to read music at sight. They learn to play by ear. They learn myriad ways to interpret the same music. They learn and learn and learn and never stop. And as a composer?  I plan!  99% of my effort is planning and checking - planning structure, writing the end first (future state!), planning how to get there, knowing where I'm starting (current state!); then, going to players to check to see if what we've imagined is possible, or ask how to get my ideas across better, using the strengths of an instrument. Checking in with an ensemble on timings, venue, style, wishes, in the case of a commission. Writing and rewriting.  The actual doing is a short rehearsal or two, and the concert.  30-180 minutes, compared to 30-180 hours (or days!).

As a masters student, I took this to a whole new level, and began to produce performances. Beyond that, as most musicians know, the "business" begins in earnest - if you want your music played, or you want to play, you will have to prepare, sell yourself, create an ensemble, spend the majority of your working life practicing for the actual doing. What you do with the music changes constantly, and is affected by how others that you play with see and hear the music - your fellow players, conductors, and multiple conductors in the case of most symphony orchestras. Your standardized work is the set of skills you develop to be able to take on any piece of music put in front of you, or the skills to start, plan, write, complete and see a piece to performance.

By the time I graduated, and for the next few years, I co-produced, conducted, fund-raised, participated in, gophered for, coordinated, communicated and budgeted for modern and traditional operas and a lot of new music. There is no more drop-dead dealine than curtain on opening night.  You can't put it off. You can't say, oh we're not quite ready, so we'll just postpone for a week, and backdate the paper.  Some arrangements are fixed and can't be changed, so you become very, very good at coming up with innovative solutions to problems as they arise (variation). After a while doing this, you learn skill to minimize and/or anticipate the problems (minizing variation) so that maximum variation and interpretation can happen on stage, in the moment, creating the "art" in the art.  These were the skills that prepared me for the business world, and made me so popular with some of my agencies - I could think on my feet, hit the floor running, think outside the box, and still, take a deep breath and see what was right in front of me. Very useful skills for a lean practitioner - adaptation, adaptation, adaptation, and yet the understanding that very standardized, high-level set of skills is needed to provide room for the very best in variation for art's sake. I see parallels all the time. That's why I can say, "Everything I needed to learn to get started in music, I learned doing a Masters in Music". A waste of time? After reading this, do you really think so?



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Irene Johansen September 19, 2013

"Everything I needed to learn to get started in business, I learned doing a Masters in Music". Sorry... typo! There were many, but this was the worst!



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Irene Johansen September 19, 2013
And in answer to your question.... PDCA = BOTH

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