Can I have the Check, please?

The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is loved by all because it makes complete sense and couldn’t be simpler. Yet, through no fault of its own, it has two failings.

  1. Each of the 4 stages are likely to be well executed at the launch of a project or when executing significant change. Though, after successfully completing its first rotation of the cycle, the focus placed upon the process stages immediately wanes and soon after, PDCA becomes BAU. The reason for this can be understood though not condoned. Attention and effort, and therefore cost, will be centred on business priorities, whereas with completed projects there is an expectation that no further attention is needed for some time. Not so. Business changes and new developments are often introduced into fluid or dynamic business environments, and so by their nature, a cyclic approach to their maintenance is necessary, both for the sakes of business advantage and for the return on investment made in implementing the change.
  2. It is the Check stage of the process which lacks attention. The Plan stage is never a problem because it’s an obviously interesting stage for which there will be no shortage of strategist and project manager to pick up the baton. Do and Act are both production stages to which clear activities can be assigned. The Check stage, however, is often the most subjective of the stages and will typically receive the least focus, usually because it adopts a standard reporting model for which the audience is small. If it’s true that information is king, then it follows that the Check stage of the PDCA process is the most important as it fuels the other stages by introducing recommendations which will keep the cycle alive. If nothing of interest arises from the Check stage then the PDCA cycle will stop. If the goals are to maintain business advantage and to maximise investments made in implementing change, then the solution is to maintain the Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle as a valuable business tool, the success of which hinges on the quality of the Check stage.

A maximised Check stage should be considered in three parts:

  • Standard reporting – Whilst mentioned above as a poor contributor to the overall PDCA process, standard and periodic reporting of service levels and key performance indicators is an important first step in ensuring a fit for purpose service or system. It enables those working at the sharp end to make continual tweaks to ensure the work they do stays on the tracks.
  • Customer satisfaction – A periodic snap shot of what the users think, provides a relevant point of reference for the system or service. It provides management and those involved in delivery with an assurance that their efforts are working towards a common goal, and protect against the risk of the system or service simply working to its own ends. Any deviation from where the system or service is, to where it needs to be, can then be acted upon.
  • Assessment – A comprehensive analysis of the system or service, the business it operates in, the value it provides, the weaknesses it presents and the opportunities that may exist within it, should then be commissioned, with sufficient access to the business, and reported upon. Such an exercise needs to ‘look under the bonnet’ and provide an objective output with recommendations which are the consequence of balanced data analysis and inquisitive investigation.

Clearly, the three types of checking will be performed at varying and increasing frequencies. The correct combination of the three, however, will ensure that the cycle is maintained and will prevent systems or services from slipping into self-serving modes of operation, which really is what the Plan, Do, Check, Act process is all about.

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

Originally a column for ITSM Portal: http://www.itsmportal.com/columns/can-i-have-check-please

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