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Lean Leadership – Using PDCA to drive improvements to the next level

It happens in every system. You find a problem, record your current state, experiment towards the target vision, come up with a fantastic solution and feel that great sense of achievement from making your environment better.

Time passes, your system is in place and working, you even see some improvement in your system. However, it’s just not achieving stellar results. Technically, there’s nothing wrong, you just get the feeling the system could do more if you could just break the code.

I had this experience recently with our Waste Out Programme. I talk about the details of the programme in the previous post so I’m not going to go into that here. The key goal of this programme is to empower everyone to make improvement a daily, business as usual, way of doing things. We’ve been working on the system for three and a half years and each year the reach of programme has extended and more and more people have been involved. It’s an amazing thing to experience and we’re very proud of our team and their accomplishments.

We use a classic tool of lean practitioners everywhere to record our improvements, namely the A4 Before and After Improvement Report. It’s simple, easy to use and no frills. Each month, we get together as a team and present our improvements to each other by standing around the board in a toolbox format. We’ve had to relocate our toolbox three times in the last three years as the level of involvement keeps growing and we keep needing more space.

That’s a fantastic result you say. Why on earth do you think you need to improve on that!

Well, I have 67 people in my team and there’s 115 people in the company. We have around 20 people each month in our Waste Out toolbox. That’s 95 less people than I’d like to see celebrating and learning from improvement with us.

As a whole, our target vision stays the same. We want to bring daily improvement culture to everyone in our company. After three years it’s now time to change the immediate goal we’re trying to achieve. We now need to move deliberately towards the new goal. Ultimately we want everyone in the company to see and celebrate improvement all the time. We need to find more ways we can encourage them to record and celebrate their own improvements, building confidence and culture at the same time.

The trusty Plan Do Check Act/Adjust (PDCA) cycle is our ‘Go To’ philosophy when we’re trying to work towards a new goal. This is how we gave our Waste Out programme a step change to the next level in terms of PDCA.


In assessing our current state, we explored the obstacles to making improvement more accessible to all our team members. One of the obstacles is the A4 improvement report itself. The report is very simple and easy to use but has two disadvantages. One: You need to be able to put your thoughts into writing to some extent. Two: You can only show pictures or sketches of the place of work (Gemba) which can make it hard to explain complicated improvements. I made another observation when talking about improvements with team members in other departments. They had plenty of improvements to tell me about but I was but not seeing them celebrated. We needed a way to make communicating improvements accessible to all, even if someone didn’t attend our monthly toolbox.

Now I’ve been a great admirer of Paul Akers and his amazing team at FastCap for a few years now. In saying that, I’ve always been both impressed and daunted by the FastCap method of recording video improvements. I’d always wanted to try it but had been reluctant to pitch this to my team as they seemed a little afraid of putting themselves out there in video form.


In the spirit of experimenting towards the goal, or firing a bullet rather than a cannonball as our inspiring company founder and CEO always advocates, myself and another brave team member decided to record our next Waste Outs in video form instead of on an A4 report. We had to experiment a bit to get it right but in the end had two FastCap style improvement videos. We tested these videos on our Waste Out team at the next session. We also posted them on our group Facebook page and created QR codes linked to YouTube to make the videos more accessible.


To our surprise and delight, the feedback from our experiment was overwhelming positive. We thought videos would be too confronting and scary for our shyer team members but I had at least one tell me that starring in a video was way less scary than standing up in front of twenty people. On top of this, my clever team members immediately saw other advantages, which often happens in the improvement process. They saw the potential for bringing others into their processes, for making their improvements easier to understand by filming them at the Gemba and for showcasing their progress. By communicating improvements to a wider audience using digital media solutions, we reached a much higher percentage of our company community. I mean, who can resist clicking on a new video that pops up on your feed, especially if its someone you know.


Going forwards we now need to make sure the right tools and technology are available to team members and do some coaching on how to make video Waste Outs. Then we need to sit back and watch as we get more and more involvement from all team members over the coming months and years

Our experience shows that you can create an entire mindset shift and drive improvements to the next level just by applying the PDCA cycle, even if it’s to something that’s already working. The journey towards perfection encourages us to keep striving further ahead, to never accept the status quo and this applies to leadership systems as well as to physical processes. I’m really excited to see what improvements our team will come up with next whether they’re on paper or on social media.


I’d love to hear about your own successes with applying the PDCA cycle in the Comments section.

If you’re interested in how to make videos and link them to QR codes, check out this video from FastCap that we used. We used different programs and apps but used the video as a jump off point.

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