"For Toyota, PDCA is more than a way to get results from process improvement. It is a way of developing people." — Liker and Franz, The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership
Developing people means challenging people. But just issuing challenges isn’t enough. You must also teach a systematic, common means of creating solutions and meeting those challenges.
To get people across an organization to systematically work on improvement every day requires teaching the skills behind the solution. And for that to happen, their leaders and mangers also need to practice and learn those skills.
A simple, pragmatic problem solving methodology is the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) approach. It begins with a Planning phase in which the problem is clearly identified and understood. Potential solutions are then generated and tested on a small scale in the "Do" phase, and the outcome of this testing is evaluated during the Check phase. "Do" and "Check" phases can be iterated as many times as is necessary before the full, polished solution is implemented in the "Act" phase.
One of the advantages of developing and following a proper PDCA cycle is the ability to learn and acquire wisdom. Wisdom requires that we arrange what we observe and know, and create meaning from it; it also requires that we consider what we need to unlearn as well.
The purpose of PDCA is to generate surprises and thus opportunities for learning & progress toward the target condition. Unexpected results (surprises) lead to valuable learning experiences. When a hypothesis is refuted this is in particular when you can gain new insight that helps you learn, improve, adapt and innovate. When a result is as-predicted it confirms something you already thought.
The PDCA procedure is specified, but the path is not. Things will occur along the way that shift your thinking and cause you to revise your ideas. That’s normal. The target condition remains the same, but the path shifts as you learn.
The steps of PDCA constitute a scientific process of acquiring knowledge. The PDCA cycle model is built as a continuous loop and this loop ensures frequent iteration. This is very beneficial because this is the learning cycle that is necessary in solving problems as well as developing problem solvers and leaders alike.