PDCA at the Plate

John Shook
8/9/2011
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Forgive me, non-baseball fans. But, it is the season.

Readers of mine know that I like baseball and find many parallels between it and lean thinking. In other words, I see a lot of good lean thinking in baseball. [See "Managing to Pitch with PDCA (Pitch-Defend-Catch-Adjust)" and "You Gotta Have Wa"]

So now I live in Cambridge, essentially part of Boston, home of the Lean Enterprise Institute. And home of the Boston Red Sox baseball team, who just hosted their rivals, the New York Yankees for a three-game series. Amidst all the media coverage was a great quote from new Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who has some interesting lean views about batting.

We know that "lean" is all about plan-do-check-act (PDCA). The challenge we all face in our everyday work is to answer the question, How do I do PDCA here, now.

I like to remind folks at every opportunity that PDCA begins with ... "P." So, you can't do PDCA without the P (and the D and the C and the A - the P alone will, of course, get you nowhere). Now, check out this observation from Adrian (forgive me Yankees fans), who has a clear plan for every at-bat:
"... even if it's the dumbest game plan in the world, at least it's a game plan, and I’m going to go to the plate and try it. I'm willing to lose with that game plan. It's a game of failure, and I understand that."

Interesting. His approach is reminiscent of Edison's great observation: "I haven't failed - I've found 10,000 things that don't work."

If baseball (and surely football or soccer is no different) can be seen as a game of failure, could that insight shed useful light on our attitude toward business? If we are focused on learning through each PDCA cycle - win, lose, or draw - then the only real failure is failure to learn. Think of your own sports analogy, but maybe business isn't so different from baseball.

John Shook
Chairman and CEO
Lean Enterprise Institute

P.S. By the way, Adrian's failure rate at batting (at getting a hit) this year is about 65%. So, he fails most of the time. And that's easily the lowest failure rate (and possibly also the highest learning rate) in Major League Baseball. (Read more about his approach in this Boston Globe article by Charles P. Pierce.)

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Tammy Pena October 30, 2011
Unfortunately, the Red Sox did not make it the play offs, but what a year for the underdog Cardinals from St. Louis!  What is a better example of PDCA then that amazing Game 6, where the Cardinals came back in the last inning on the last pitch to gain the win after being down not once by 3 times!  There were so many times when could have given up.  Then, after several failures and adjustments going into game 7, it was an easy win for the Cardinals taking a 6-2 victory over the Rangers.  The Series was amazing, quickly becoming known as “the historical World Series”, even earning Fox Sports the highest overnight ratings sense your Red Sox in 2004.  Would this have be marked as “the best world series ever” if one of the more popular teams played or it was just another game?  Who knows?  But this year the Cardinals made history.  I’m a new baseball fan and know what they mean when they say "legends were born in October".Legends are born in October when given the chance. Personology research shows that people born in October make good leaders, take risks, and follow their dreams.  But following dreams can be spooky like a haunted house full of unknowns. To do this October babies must make decisions and be tenacious; having the ability to get back up after a fall, adjust and believe the dream.  I’d say that to be true after this legendary performance from the Cardinals.  They took risks, showed courage, and adjusted after several failures because they believed in themselves, their team, their leader, and their dream.  But they also know they would not have had the chance if not for the support of their fans. Life is always throwing us curve balls and when it does, we have to hold onto the bat firm, adjust, and keep swinging. You never know, you may end up with a home run.  Swing battttah battttah battttah swiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing battah!