Creating a culture of continuous improvement requires having an AIM or knowing exactly what the organization is striving for.
This means the entire organization should understand the concept of excellence and continually look for ways to do things better and more efficiently, resulting in higher levels of effectiveness.
When everyone understands the aim of excellence, there’s a synergy to achieve that objective. Excellence doesn’t just happen; it’s intentional!
To achieve excellence, you need a systematic approach to improvement initiatives that result in positive change for the organization.
FOCUS PDCA Improvement Methodology
We all understand why improvement and a focus on excellence are important, so what we need is a method to use to help with our improvement efforts.
FOCUS PDCA is an improvement methodology that many organizations use to guide their improvement efforts. It’s simply a formalized process for improvement.
Organizations use the FOCUS PDCA methodology for several reasons.
- It’s user friendly and does not require a lot of technical or scientific knowledge. It’s easy to learn quickly, and with time and practice, skills can increase.
- It’s a methodology that helps to keep everyone focused on the improvement effort. The structure of the process encourages focus and accountability for completing assigned tasks.
- It gets employees (and volunteers) involved in the process of problem solving. This improvement model places value on the wisdom and experience of front-line workers (employees or volunteers) and encourages the use of their expertise.
- It provides a plan and steps for improvements. These plans help to eliminate the frustrations that come with working in an environment that allows organizational problems to dictate internal processes, instead of the opposite.
- It’s a methodology that uses data to ask the questions and has tools to help determine the steps toward improvements.
- Organizations use this methodology because it works!
So what does FOCUS PDCA mean? It is actually an acronym for an approach to problem-solving and it stands for:
Now let’s go through each one to understand its meaning.
Find a process or identify a problem that needs improvement. Problems are pretty easy to identify. Just think about the chronic complaints you get or those things that simply frustrate you at work. Those things that impact church customers (members, volunteers, and employees) or internal processes that make it difficult to do things.
For example, if new volunteers are continually venting frustration about the length of time it takes to go through the volunteer application, approval, and placement process, it’s probably time to work toward streamlining the process.
Organize a team that understands or works with the process or problem. The team consists of people who know the process well and can speak to what works and what needs changing. For example, if you want to improve the volunteer application process, you need a team that includes the people who administer the process as well as people who experience the process – new volunteers.
Clarify the knowledge. Clarifying the knowledge of the process can help to ensure there’s agreement on what the real issues are. Every person who walks through the process or experiences the problem sees things from a little different perspective making it important to clarify the knowledge from every perspective.
Understand the process variations. There are variations in every process. The trick is to discover what causes the variations so you can minimize the peaks and valleys.
For example, think about how long it takes you to drive to work. There’s an average commute time that’s calculated by using the actual times it takes every day.
Let’s say your commute is anywhere from 16 minutes to 24 minutes, depending on traffic and weather conditions. Your average commute time would be 20 minutes and any variation more than four minutes either side is an outlier. In this example, a snow day might make the time vary significantly, but it’s still an outlier because it’s an unusual (not daily) occurrence.
In the example of the volunteer application process, to understand process variations, you need to collect some baseline (before) data so you can track the length of time it takes to process a volunteer. This involves collecting data starting from the date you receive the application to the date the volunteer has a position and a schedule to work. Use this baseline data later as a measure to see whether the improvements resulted in a positive change.
Select a solution to test. Have the team determine what solution you’d like to test and create a goal for the improvement.
For instance, streamlining the volunteer application process time might result in a team goal that reduces the volunteer application processing time from six weeks to seven days. This gives the team a specific AIM and goal to work toward.
After there’s an understanding of the problem, and you selected a solution, it’s time to:
Plan the improvement effort. You do this by creating an action-plan for team members to implement. Creating an action plan requires identifying all the necessary tactical steps, assigning accountability or responsibility for each step, and creating a timeline for completion. This action plan document is what you use to monitor progress and hold team members accountable for achieving objectives.
Do the plan. You do this by completing the steps in the action plan and holding people accountable for assigned steps and timelines. This is the most critical step in the entire improvement process. If people do not follow through with the Do, the plan is nothing more than a piece of paper.
Check the results to see whether the improvement efforts truly made a difference. In the volunteer application process example, it’s important to have the baseline data showing the actual length of the process prior to the improvement efforts as a measure to monitor progress. Collect the same data after the improvements are in effect and compare the before and after process times to determine whether the efforts resulted in the goal or AIM of the efforts.
And finally, you’re going to Act on those results. If the improvements worked, write the policy, train the people who work with the process, and continue to monitor.
In the volunteer application process, update the policy for processing new volunteers, train the volunteer department on the new process, and communicate the new expectations for volunteer processing times. Once those who work with the process receive training, you’ll monitor how the process is working and help to fine-tune the process.
If the improvement effort didn’t work, you go through the process again. Repeating the cycle is how continuous improvement works!
Does your organization have a system to improve your internal processes?
If you would more information on how to improve how the work of the church gets done, check out our new book Church Quality: Why Excellence in the Local Church is Essential for Growth.
photo by: MartinKenny
Article originally published Jan, 2012, updated April, 2014.