PDCA and marshmallows

What I like the most about PDCA is that it is practical and simple, what makes it ultimately sophisticated (thanks, Leo). Simple does not equal easy, the proof is that it took the mankind millenniums to develop the scientific method.

Check out this TED video called “build a tower, build a team” (aka “the marshmallow challenge”):

The video shows very important and not so evident ideas about thinking and developing new solutions: The most important are:

  • Pure planning does not work well. The “Plan” phase of PDCA is very important, but not the most important (let’s say it is as important as the others). Planning without doing is useless. Planning without being prepared to fail and learn from the things that went wrong is naïve. Many people are trained to find the “single right solution” and then execute it. This is a wrong strategy (by the way, this is how many people think PDCA and DMAIC work. Wrong!)
  • The value of prototyping: Prototype + Refine is a great strategy. Build something that works and then make it better, so that the development team gets continuous feedback about what works well and what does not. For this, of course, it is critical to know what is your marshmallow, this is, what is your goal or the critical customer need you want to meet. It is so common to find teams who don’t really know what they are doing…
  • The importance of facilitation: The importance of the process! A development team with technical people and process people is a winning team. Diverse teams with different people of difference areas may move slower (not necessarily) but will definitely get further. The importance of people who can facilitate, organize and solve conflict is often underestimated.
  • The effect of incentives: “Incentives + High skills” lead to success most of the times but high stakes with a low level of skills might be catastrophic: everybody panics and nothing gets done. Use incentives intelligently.

All these concepts apply to Lean thinking. It is basic to know your goal (your marshmallow), use prototyping (continuous improvement), create a diverse team (respect for people) and use incentives wisely. Keep this in mind and your probabilities of success will be higher.

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