The solution is chess, not checkers. It means more innovation and a deeper processing of issues involving both strategy and organizational purpose. In reinventing our approach to knowledge work, we moved beyond the limited scope of simple problem-solving models and created PDL—Plan, Do, Learn. PDL starts with the foundations of continuous improvement, but quickly moves to the human side of the business where the real opportunities for growth exist.
Table 1 presents all three phases of the process. In the first column, you will see a 10-step problem-solving model. The second column is the real differentiator of PDL. This is where the “people” issues get integrated into how we do our work.
Here’s why the second column is so critical: For most of the truly important problems facing our organizations, there is no right answer. In other words, we can’t just do a simple pros-and-cons analysis, weigh the differences and come out with a rational decision. Most decisions of substance have either too many elements (making them hopelessly complex) or have elements that are not reducible to rational inputs.
- Plan: In the “plan” phase of the PDL cycle, people are fully engaged in defining the challenge or problem and devising a plan that they can “own.”
- Do: In the “do” phase of the cycle, the plan is not simply implemented, it is fully supported with a communication strategy for key stakeholders, an openness by team members to make appropriate changes during the process and an eye toward capturing the learning opportunities that come from new experiences.
- Learn: In the “learn” phase, the real magic occurs. Here’s where the team fully manages the learning experience by decoding the results and making appropriate changes before moving into the next cycle (a new project or continuous improvement of the existing project). This is rarely done well within organizations, but it truly serves as one of the greatest opportunities to accelerate organizational performance.
The reality is that most improvement efforts rely on capturing many incremental improvements over time. To be successful, team members will need to be dedicated to learning. Improvement is too narrow a target because it fails to acknowledge the broad learning that often precedes a problem-solving effort. That’s why it is important to give employees a common approach with which they can build a common language and a set of mastery skills.
Table 1: Plan, Do, Learn
1. Define the Problem
2. Identify Root Causes
Diverse points of view are generated with a special effort to “grasp the uniqueness of the situation.”
3. Develop and Evaluate Alternative Solutions
A shared understanding of the challenge supports a collaborative problem-solving effort.
4. Select the Best Solution
5. Develop an Action Plan
Inclusive solutions are created that address core stakeholder issues.
6. Implement the Plan
The plan is supported with an ongoing communication strategy that fully leverages stakeholder input and involvement.
7. Monitor Progress
8. Make Adjustments to the Plan
An attitude of “adaptability” supports mid-course corrections and adjustments.
9. Measure Outcomes and Analyze Results
Accountability is reinforced as the team analyzes its results.
10. Manage Learning
The team grows in confidence and capability as it sees the benefit of managing experiences by capturing the learning that comes from them.
Mike Morrison has more than 20 years of experience in the automotive business, serving in a variety of executive roles. He recently completed his doctoral study at the Peter F. Drucker Center—Claremont Graduate University. Mike currently serves as the dean for the University of Toyota and can be reached at email@example.com.