W. Edwards Deming was most known for his arguments for organizations to embrace continuous improvement plans for their processes. Although specifically geared towards the manufacturing sector, the concept of continuous improvement can and should be practiced by all organizations.
The basic concept of Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) is basic in its premise but can be powerful and complex as more and more cycles are completed. Starting off small, a process can be tested for effects, whether negative or positive, and through multiple iterations, the process can be vastly improved. The process can be broken down as follows:
Objectives are set and decided upon. Specific processes are targeted for a change, and though staff experience and knowledge of current processes, calculations are made to determine expected changes. This is not simply making changes for the sake of trying something different, but in a sense arriving at expected results of a specific change.
Once planning has concluded, new processes are implemented into the existing setup. Characteristic with this process is the idea of starting off small, and scaling up as multiple iterations are concluded.
In keeping with the Deming philosophy of continuous improvement, data is gathered and studied. Teams need to determine whether or not a change to an existing process actually resulted in positive or negative results. Comparisons are made against the actual data accumulated versus the original expected change. Emphasis on statistical analysis is quite important as data can be collected to determine trends, which can be used for future planning and to garner an accurate picture of the characteristics of the process.
Through further analysis of the changes and the data collected from each change, final decisions need to be made to determine if the proposed change is permanently included in the overall process. After a change is made, or not (for negative results), the process can begin anew.
The PDCA process can be as simple of complex as needed for any proposed change. With every iteration of this cycle, an organization can significantly improve quality or services rendered, and also keep all processes up to date with a continuous improvement practice.