As the Market Changes – Plan Now for Continuous Improvements

By Ben Hershey, CEO, The 4Ward Group of Companies

No doubt that as I am writing this, many of us have had to turn our focus to our families, our friends, and our businesses as the COVID-19 virus has rapidly spread throughout North America.  The impact to many has been requirements to shelter families in their homes, except for critical functions which in many cases has included building components and suppling building products for home construction.  It was just a short twelve years ago that we all thought/ hoped we would never see such a major change to normal business operations again, but here we are.  The good news though is that the balance sheets of banks and most businesses are very strong, and our businesses should be able to come out of this  eventually.  

While we find ourselves in an upheaval like this, it is a good time to evaluate what is working and what is not.  Though I know many of you have been quite busy over the past few weeks (much like our team has been extremely busy), we’ll need to take time to go back and check on the progress of our continuous improvement efforts; a check-up. For this, a good method you can use to enable your team to improve processes and products continuously is the PDCA, Plan-Do-Check-Act.

 Explained briefly, a Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is a model for carrying out change. It is an essential part of the lean manufacturing philosophy and a key for continuous improvement of people and processes.  First proposed by Walter Shewhart and later developed by William Deming, the PDCA cycle became a widespread framework for constant improvements in manufacturing, management, and other areas.  PDCA is a simple four-stage method that enables teams to avoid recurring mistakes and improve processes.  The PDCA cycle is an iterative approach for continually improving products, people, and services. For example, imagine that you have several complaints about the slow response rate of your support team to the production line.  You probably will need to improve the way your team works in order to keep the production line satisfied; this is the point where PDCA comes into play.

Let’s explore the four stages of PDCA in detail.

PLAN

At this stage, you will literally plan what needs to be done. Depending on the size of the project, planning can take a major part of your team’s efforts. It will usually consist of smaller steps, so you can build a proper plan with fewer possibilities of failure.

Before you move to the next stage, you need to be sure that you answer some basic concerns:

  • What is the core problem we need to solve?
  • What resources do we need?
  • What resources do we have?
  • What is the best solution for fixing the problem with the available resources?
  • Under what conditions will the plan be considered successful?  What are the goals?

Keep in mind that you and your team may need to go through the plan a couple of times, before being able to proceed. 

DO

After you have agreed on the plan, it is time to take action. At this stage, you will apply everything that has been considered during the previous stage.  Be aware that unpredicted problems may occur at this phase. This is why, in a perfect situation, you may first try to incorporate your plan on a small scale and in a controlled environment.  Standardization is something that will definitely help your team apply the plan smoothly. Make sure that everybody knows their roles and responsibilities.  This is really critical; for the plan established at the beginning, is everyone following the process as you expected?  Changes can be made to improve, but standardize the process so that it is followed every time.

CHECK

 This is probably the most important stage of the PDCA cycle. If you want to clarify your plan, avoid recurring mistakes, and apply continuous improvement successfully, you need to pay enough attention to the CHECK phase.

Here, you need to audit your plan’s execution and see if your initial plan actually worked. Moreover, your team will be able to identify problematic parts of the current process and eliminate them in the future. If something went wrong during the process, you need to analyze it and find the root cause of the problems.

ACT

Finally, you arrive at the last stage. Previously, you developed, applied, and checked your plan. Now, you need to act.  If everything seems perfect and your team has managed to achieve the original goals, then you can proceed and apply your initial plan.  It can be appropriate to adopt the whole plan if objectives are met. Respectively, your PDCA model will become the new standard baseline. However, every time you repeat a standardized plan, remind your team to carefully go through all steps again and try to improve.

 The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is a simple, yet powerful, framework for fixing issues on any level of your organization.  The repetitive approach helps your team find and test solutions and improve them through a waste-reducing cycle.

The PDCA cycle includes a mandatory commitment to continuous improvement and it can have a positive impact on productivity and efficiency.  Last, but not least, keep in mind that the PDCA model requires a certain amount of time and it may not be appropriate for solving urgent issues.

The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is a useful tool that can help your team solve problems much more efficiently. Its significant advantages include:

  • It stimulates continuous improvement of people and processes.
  • It lets your team test possible solutions on a small scale and in a controlled environment.
  • It prevents the work process from recurring mistakes.

And as always, if our team can assist you in developing a continuous improvement plan with PDCA, please let us know.

From all of us here at The 4Ward Group of Companies, it is our hope and prayer that each of you and your families are kept safe and protected during this time.  May God bless each of you, our leaders who are making critical decisions, and our country.

Ben Hershey is CEO of the 4Ward Group of Companies including Consulting Solutions, Labor Solutions, Offsite Solutions, Design Solutions and Accounting Solutions.  When the industry needs an actual expert, they turn to 4Ward team with more than 150 years of experience.  4Ward Consulting Group isthe leading provider of Management and Manufacturing Consulting to the Structural Component and Lumber Industry. A Past President of SBCA, Ben has owned and managed several manufacturing and distribution companies and is Six Sigma Black Belt Certified. Ben has provided consulting to hundreds of Component Manufacturers, Lumber Dealers, and Millwork Operations in the past seven years.  You can reach Ben at ben@4WardConsult.com or 623-512-6770.

© 2020 4Ward Consulting Group, LLC 

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