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The ‘Plan-Do-Check-Act’ cycle as part of a culture of improvement

ISO standards include a basic philosophy of continual improvement. W. Edwards Deming taught a cycle of planning work, performing work, measuring outputs against expected results, and adjustments to the plan. This cycle benefits organizations in fields as diverse as education and training, conference management and manufacturing. 


A culture of improvement includes 3 ongoing components: Know your risks, Set controls and goals to address them, and then Monitor to see if controls are effective and you’re meeting your goals.


Improvements can come from team members, customer suggestions, requests and complaints, industry innovations, risk-based thinking, breakthrough change, results of internal audits, and measurement and analysis. We outline a few key concepts below. Our blog has posts in more detail, and we have a long list of recommended resources to help you in your improvement journey. 

Team Member Involvement is Critical

Improvement works best when it’s part of your culture and daily activity, more than an occasional project. 

A single employee or the whole team can initiate improvement. Employees usually have a list of resources or changes they would like you to make so they can be more effective or not feel stuck in an inefficient process. “Involvement of people” (a key ISO principle) means soliciting and then involving employees in improvement cycles. 

Reward/recognize team participation in spotting process gaps and root cause analysis, and recognize contributors who identify opportunities to improve processes.

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Hamster Wheel or Swan?

The pressure to produce can feel like a hamster wheel, running from one project to the next, with little time to evaluate and improve. But that’s not effective, long-term.

Compare that to a swan gliding across a lake, appearing to glide effortlessly while taking powerful rhythmic strokes underwater.  So too, an effective process can look almost effortless, just one orderly step after another producing consistent results. Peter Drucker wrote that the best-managed companies are quiet, almost boring, because most everything is planned for and effective. When  each process has become as effective as possible, preferably Lean, everyone is able to be productive without feeling like a hamster. 

Internal audits help make processes more effective by identifying gaps within and between processes.  Data analysis helps point to deviations from anticipated outputs, and trends in KPIs, indicating where focus is needed. Consistent review of process effectiveness creates time in a busy schedule for regular process improvement.

Objectives and KPIs Indicate Needed Improvements

Overall company objectives like “90% on-time delivery” are important as targets, but does every employee know how they contribute? ‘Flowing down’ objectives to each department  and defining Key Process Indicators creates accountability. 

  • Identify overall objectives.

  • Identify Key Process Indicators (expected results from each process or department) that support those objectives. 

  • Collect the associated data in daily operations 

  • Analyze the data to show if objectives will be met, and where weakness or shortfall is occurring. 

  • Perform Root Cause Analysis on the indicated areas to find the best Corrective Action. You can read our information on Root Cause Analysis here, or you can download our whitepaper.

You can gain three key benefits from clear, measurable objectives and KPIs: 

  • Clear objectives by department or process help employees understand how their particular tasks contribute to overall company health (and ultimately their compensation.)

  • Management can identify which departments need additional resources in equipment, training, or staff.

  • Deviations become clear immediately.


Within the LEAN world, improvement projects follow the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control model. In operations, whether an “Obeya” or operations control room exists or not, process improvements are monitored when data is reviewed by management and team leads to identify issues early in the process. The daily “Gemba” walk around the facility then monitors those areas where change is needed or occurring to ensure timely implementation of solutions.


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