Plan-do-check-act. You’ve probably heard this before in terms of quality or experimentation. Plan-do-check-act (PDCA) is at the heart of scientific theory yet finds application across project management and new product development (NPD) applications.
What is PDCA?
Simplistically, PDCA is a cycle of continued learning. Once a hypothesis is identified, a test plan is designed. The test is conducted (do) and results gathered. As test results are checked to validate the hypothesis, a new action is implemented (act).
For example, in playing tic-tac-toe with a friend, you may always select the upper left corner to place your first “X” (plan, do). Following the game through, you monitor each move (check) and evaluate the results (win or lose). If your strategy worked (you won), you will act on this knowledge and continue to start the tic-tac-toe game with an “X” in the upper left corner.
On the other hand, if you lost and your friend won the round, your action will involve testing a new hypothesis – placing the first “X” in the center square, for instance.
While it is simple, the PDCA cycle is quite effective when applied to more complicated project management and new product development activities.
PDCA in Project Management
Project management processes stress the importance of lessons learned. Project teams must engage in learning and growth throughout the life of a project in order for the project to adequately progress and to meet deliverables. In fact, project management often employs progressive elaboration, a theory and practice in which the project manager and project team continually revise and adjust project plans based on new information coming available during the execution cycle of the project.
Consider, for instance, an IT project involving time card design to satisfy a new income tax regulation. As the IT project team lays out the input screens, a federal lawsuit over the new regulation surfaces. When the courts rule with a new privacy requirement, the IT team will need to adjust the project plans for the time card design.
PDCA also applies within the framework of project management and progressive elaboration. Based on a series of assumptions, the project plan will include a schedule of activities for a given number of human resources. The work is conducted (do) and performance is measured (check). Validation of the resource plan means there will be no changes to the project plan, but if there are too few (or too many) resources, the project manager will act by revising and updating the plan.
Plan-do-check-act is most frequently associated with project quality management. In this sense, projects need to strive for customer satisfaction, prevention over inspection, continuous improvement (PDCA), and management responsibility. Quality principles demonstrate higher levels of continuous improvement when employees are engaged in the process.
PDCA in NPD
New product development professionals (NPDP) share many of the basic principles of project management professionals (PMP). Yet, NPD systems are typically far broader, starting with the business strategy and identification of markets, technologies, and products for a new business model. The PDCA cycle repeats within many of the processes of new product development and within the structured NPD process.
First, the staged work and gate review process serves as PDCA cycle in itself. An idea is brought forth and a plan is devised for the next stage of work. During the stage, NPD team members execute the customer market research studies and technical work (do). A team of mid-level managers checks the work at a gate review and acts to advance or kill the NPD project.
Next, market research studies are also based on the PDCA cycle. A focus group may test a product concept to validate customer satisfaction with a new product idea. The idea may be revised based upon results of an initial focus group and then a new hypothesis is tested with the next focus group.
Finally, the PDCA cycle is built into the R&D work of new product development by definition. Technology improvements for existing products are often utilized to add features based upon consumer feedback of already commercialized products. Technical performance attributes are designed (plan) and implemented (do) into next generation products. If consumers recognize the benefits as desirable (check), sales will increase, and the design change becomes permanent (act).
Plan-do-check-act is simple. You can start implementing quality improvement in NPD projects today by following these easy steps.
- Plan – what is my hypothesis?
- Do – test the hypothesis
- Check – gather and analyze the test results
- Act – if the test was successful, permanently implement the change. If not, propose a new hypothesis.
To learn more about using PDCA in project management and new product development, please contact Global NP Solutions at email@example.com or by phone at 281-280-8717 for additional details. You may also enjoy learning more about new product project tools in an NPDP certification workshop. Workshops will address the structured stage-gate process, business models, and innovation strategy and they are held monthly through guided webinars or at your own pace in an effective self-study format.
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