How to Use the PDCA Cycle to Leverage Your Personal Effectiveness

Every person has a mission in his life, whether explicit or implicit, structured or disorganized. Successful people state their missions explicitly. They strive to achieve them through systematic planning, doing, checking, and acting on results to keep alignment to the mission until it is accomplished. These are the people who deserve the personal effectiveness badge at the end of their lives. Achieving one’s personal mission is not an easy job. It starts with developing a Mission Statement, and proceeds as a continuous improvement process that constantly yields behaviors congruent with the mission values and principles.

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle, sometimes referred to as Deming or Shewhart Cycle, is a four-step model used to carry out a change or to realize an improved, envisioned situation. This methodology begins with planning for the change (Plan Phase), then carrying out the change (Do Phase), then analyzing the results and identifying what has been learned (Check Phase), and finally taking action based on what has been learned (Act Phase); if the change has not proved successful, effective people readjust their behaviors to the plan, or they go through the cycle with a different plan, if necessary.

It is not enough to climb the ladder rapidly, but a diligent effort to ensure the ladder is leaning against the right wall is what allows individuals to achieve their goals. Continuous checking on leaning against the right wall requires a systematic methodology such as Deming Cycle that has proved useful in achieving effectiveness on the organizational level, and can also prove successful in achieving effectiveness for individuals through its four phases.

PLAN your roles and goals, and break down your mission statement. As Stephen Covey states in his book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, all things are created twice; a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation. You design the clothes before you thread the needle. Composing a mission statement is the mental creation to achieve your personal effectiveness. It allows you to explicitly state what you want to be, what you want to do, and the values and principles you will use as bases for that. Hence, this personal ‘constitution’ becomes the criteria based on which your behaviors are evaluated and directed, thus it is the grounds for making daily decisions affecting your life.

This statement is not something easily or rapidly developed, it may take weeks and months to be composed, and to be broken down into roles, goals, and activities. It is easier to decompose the statement into roles and goals to give it a sort of structure and traceability. Once identified, goals are further translated into daily activities that you prioritize and schedule on your personal agenda.

DO your planned activities and walk the talk. Once you have agreed to what is really important to you, you need to work hard to achieve it by sticking to the road map you have established in the first step. In this step, you execute every week in your life around your deepest priorities. You focus on your plan, and do important tasks while you avoid the temptation of doing urgent but unimportant stuff. In other words, you become proactive and effective.

Proactivityis the ability of a man to elevate his life consciously based on his own values, not based on the environment surrounding him. Stephen Covey says that proactivity is more than merely taking initiative. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives, and that our behavior is a function of our own decisions, not our conditions. Therefore, when you carry out your daily activities, you need to behave in a way that is congruent with the values you set in your mission statement. If you subordinate your values and principles to the conditions surrounding you, you will be led astray, and you will not accomplish what you have established in your personal constitution; the mission statement.

CHECK the results and consequences of your actions as you carry out your daily activities. Every day of your life contributes to the vision you have set initially, and every behavior can be tested against what really matters most to you. To test the effectiveness of your behaviors, you need to gather information and analyze results. It is in this step when you realize where you are standing, and whether your progress approaches your goals or departs away. Here is also where you figure out the root causes of derailment, and where you start thinking of corrective and preventive measures to get back on track.

Depending on the complexity of your mission and goals, you can select from a wide range of tools and techniques to complete this step. Checklists, interviews, brainstorming, mind-mapping, Fishbone diagram, and many other management tools prove helpful to gather information and to analyze results in an effort to take the right decision.

ACT on what you have learned from your behaviors, and realign. Although they look sequential in a cyclical model, practically, the ‘Do’, ‘Check’, and ‘Act’ steps are carried out almost simultaneously. While you are executing your daily activities, you constantly monitor the consequences, and you provide the forces necessary to organize resources in the right direction. If your actions result in outcomes that are not in line with your goals, you better realign to your vision. You may find that some goals are no more valid, and thus you need to rethink them, or even to re-formulate the mission, if necessary.

Your personal environment is changing at ever-increasing pace, and you need to adjust the sail of the ship to keep heading the right direction. Most often, you will be faced with urgent but unimportant tasks that may derail you from your important ones. You need to re-focus your attention and to leverage energies to complete your schedule. You need to be effective rather than being merely efficient.

In conclusion, achieving personal effectiveness requires someone to know what is really important to him and to keep that in mind throughout his life. Once a man becomes aware of his values and principles, he can chart his roles in life, and attach goals and activities to each role in a prioritized, balanced mode. This forms the road map to his success, and he should work diligently to continuously improve it as he walks down the road. The PDCA Cycle is an extremely helpful methodology that guides a person’s endeavor in planning his roles and goals, in doing what he has committed to do, in checking consequences of behaviors, and in acting on results to realign to the ‘true north’ throughout his journey.