Keeping Score in the PDCA Process
Posted by Orrin Woodward on January 24, 2012
Here are several paragraphs from the Systems chapter of my new book RESOLVED: 13 Resolutions for LIFE. Keeping score in the PDCA – Plan, Do, Check, and Adjust – process is essential to success. Enjoy. Sincerely, Orrin Woodward
Scoreboard and PDCA
When a person applies systems thinking to his life many times a seemingly small change can have a huge effect as Donella Meadows illustrates in her book Thinking in Systems:
Near Amsterdam, there is a suburb of single-family houses all built at the same time, all alike. Well, nearly alike. For unknown reasons it happened that some of the houses were built with the electric meter down in the basement. In other houses, the electric meter was installed in the front hall.
These were the sort of electric meters that have a glass bubble with a small horizontal metal wheel inside. As the household uses more electricity, the wheel turns faster and a dial adds up the accumulated kilowatt-hours.
During the embargo and energy crisis of the early 1970’s, the Dutch began to pay close attention to their energy use. It was discovered that some of the houses in this subdivision used one-third less electricity than the other houses. No one could explain this. All houses were charged the same price for electricity, all contained similar families.
The difference, it turned out, was in the position of the electric meter. The families with high electricity use were the ones with the meter in the basement, where people rarely saw it. The ones with low use had the meter in the front hall where people passed, the little wheel turning around, adding up the monthly electricity bill many times a day.
The Dutch families unconsciously used the PDCA process to improve their results thanks to an ever-present scoreboard: the electric meter. By changing the position of the electric meter-reader, or scoreboard, their electric bills were reduced by one third. Studying this example through the lens of the PDCA process one can see the scoreboard is part of the feedback loop within the system. Notice how a small change in location produced leveraged consequences. The meter then becomes the Check step in the process. When the families noticed the wheel in the meter turning faster, they were able to check and therefore make Adjustments in their electricity use ultimately reducing their electrical loads. Because the scoreboard was visible, adjustments were made quickly leading to decreased electrical usages thus conserving energy and money.