How to Improve (at Just About Anything)

There are two ways to improve:

1. The classic way:

  • Do – make an improvement
  • Do – change a process
  • Do – implement some training
  • Do – install a system

When you have been through the 4 do’s keep right on doing.

2. The recommended way:

  • Plan – develop an idea or innovation, work out how you will implement it.
  • Do – carry out the plan on a small-scale, test it to see if it works.
  • Checkstudy what happened, did the plan work? If not why not? What can you change?
  • Act – adopt the change and roll it out, abandon it or learn from it and adapt it.

When you have finished the cycle, circle back to Plan.

The outcome:

The two methods drive different results.

Do, do, do, do causes rapid jerky movements in performance.

Do, Do, Do, Do

Plan, do, check, act drives a slow steady ratcheting up of performance.

Plan, Do, Check, Act

Check and act lock in the good and abandon the bad…  Do, well do just keeps on doing.

Pro’s and Con’s

The do, do, do, do method has the advantage that you feel that you are making progress and it is clear to the world that you are doing something.  Lots of things even.

The plan, do, check, act method has the advantage that you know you are making progress. 

The choice of method is — of course — yours.

A couple of nuances:

Plan do check act…

  • Separates the changes you make so it easier to see what worked.
  • Builds critical thinking skills in your workforce, rather than reactive acting skills.
  • Is iterative, so you continually improve, always building on what you have done so far.

When you think you have tried everything you haven’t ~ Thomas Edison 

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Image by Dennis Wilkinson

Read another opinion


  1. With the do, do, do approach, you might feel like you’re getting things done. But what are you getting done? Are they the right things? Are they working? etc.

    Always start with a plan (goals, objectives, scope)!

    Annette :-)

    • James Lawther says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately doing is often easier than planning, and looks more like work.

  2. Dont we do 1 the 2 way?

    • James Lawther says:

      I guess we should, I just think we tend to take the shortcut.

      Thanks for the comment

  3. James,
    It’s funny how we aver away from a good level of thinking before doing many of the things we take on in life. And yet, we consider ourselves a ‘thinking’ species.


  4. I’ve often seen PDCA expanded like this:

    1. Define the Problem
    2. Implement/Verify Interim Action¨
    3. Acquire and Analyse Data
    4. Determine Root Cause(s)
    5. Evaluate Possible Solutions

    6. Implement

    7. Verify the Results

    8. Standardise and Future Actions

    Personally, I think this makes it clearer for folks not used to what is being suggested.

    What do you think?

    • James Lawther says:

      I think that (as with most things) the more ways you see it the better

      Thanks for the comment

    • Providing details inside the steps I think is fine. The thing I don’t like about this is how it illustrates one of the big problems in how the PDSA is actually done versus how it should be done. PDSA should be a process where that cycle is turned quickly numerous times on the same issue and after numerous quick turns then applied (it can be abandoned quickly if it turns out this was a bad path to follow). I have written a blog posts on some tips to useing PDSA

      • James Lawther says:

        Thanks for the link John. I have seen test and learn work very well, I’ve also seen test and test as well. That wasn’t so successful.

  5. Hello James,

    I have a question for you and it is this: if the taken for granted assumption about human beings being rational (reasoning, cognitive, thinking) beings is correct then how is it that folks rarely embrace-practice-emody PDCA, and almost everyone is enmeshed into do-do-do-do?

    It occurs to me that man thinks rarely. It occurs to me that man is custom/habit: the playing out of learned habits/routines. And so man does that which he has been trained to do, in the manner he has been conditioned to do it. So the ubiquity of do-do-do.

    Yes, PDCA is great tool. And the challenge is to create the ‘space’ within man, and organisations, for the practice of PDCA to show up, take hold, and become dominant.

    All the best

    • James Lawther says:

      And space within organisations as well perhaps Maz, thanks for the thought.

  6. Another huge benefit to the PDSA cycle in my experience is to learn. I can’t remember how many times I would see in the do-do-do-do organization that

    do#1 was x
    do#2 was y
    do#3 was x again
    do#4 was z
    do#5 was y again

    Um, ok, yeah why are we trying things we already know don’t work (they are presented as fixes not, as well this old way wasn’t great but jeez it was much less bad than the mess we have now so lets go back). Why are we thinking x is going to work when we just dumped x because it wasn’t working? PDSA makes you think about the process, study the historical data and document your predictions. The learning wil


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