A Theory of Learning

First published in LinkedIn 18 Nov 2014

This posting discusses the third component of Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge.

How do you know something? How deep and certain is your knowledge? Is your knowledge good enough to make important decisions on its basis?

Management’s responsibility is to lead an organization to prosperity, which require decision-making on important things, which require deep knowledge. So, managers must make a special effort to not take opinion as fact just because they believe they know all or it is easier or faster than researching what is really happening.

To support this obligation for management knowledge and responsibility, Deming devised the PDSA cycle to acquire knowledge. PDSA stands for Plan-Do-Study-Act, a sequence of learning stages that repeats itself in a continual cycle.

A team that uses PDSA to learn what is going on in the organization will develop a theory to explain what is wrong and how to fix it, test it in a real situation, study the results from this initiative and decide what to do next based on the learning thus acquired. In this way the team can continually improve the quality of its processes and products or services.

More specifically, the PDSA flow for learning begins with a “zero stage” where teams produce an idea for an improvement which may be triggered by a current unsatisfactory situation or the desire for more operational efficiencies leading to a fatter margin. This idea creation and discussion stage is usually embedded in stage 1 “Plan” which is the foundation of the whole cycle.

Often, managers push their teams hard to accelerate this stage or skip it altogether in order to quickly “go and try something”; expressions like “throw against a wall and see if it sticks” are evidence of haste; also I cannot avoid recalling a fun and clear statement by Meilir Page-Jones on skipping steps during systems design which I paraphrase as “we rush through design so we have enough time to test a lot because we rushed through design.”

ATheoryOfLearning

So stage 1 “Plan” is about making choices between alternative ideas of courses of action to implement an idea: which one will get us to our objectives? Which one will be the most economical? Which one will create more knowledge? Which one may meet least resistance?

Stage 2 “Do” is where we put our ideas to the test. I find this so smart, that Deming bases knowledge on reality and not on opinion, as opinions are highly transformed statements of the reality, altered and filtered by every person’s experience and view of the world. This concept is echoed by Taiichi Ohno, the “father of the Toyota Production System” who writes in Workplace Management that “the wise man may be wrong more than half the time,” so it makes sense to base action on proven facts instead of opinion. A key task at this stage is to collect data to feed the work of the next stage.

Stage 3 “Study” is where the teams analyze the results of the trial or pilot. Do the results correspond to their expectations? Statistical analysis of the results will be required here to really understand what is going on and put things in perspective. Are the results true evidence of a meaningful change? Or could they have happened by chance?

Stage 4 “Act” is the last stage of the cycle where a decision is made to adopt the change, abandon it or modify the plan going through the cycle again.

Was it Useful? Please Share...
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Leave a Reply

Terms of Use   |   Site Map   |   Contact Us