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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.

5 Responses to “Keeping Score in the PDCA Process”

  1. That’s awesome, Orrin! Thank you for sharing it. It is such a simple and clear example from practical experience.

  2. John Kroon said

    How true it is. Leads one to believe that goals should be put on the bathroom mirror.

  3. Orrin, This was one of the most influential aspects I learnt since I have been around TEAM and the character development that I am going through from your’s and Tim’s mentorship. I captured some of the thoughts on this very topic on my blog venkatvarada.wordpress.com. Thank you for staying obedient to your scoreboard in your life and staying true to your calling God has bestowed upon you regardless of the circumstances, critics and thick and thin of life.

  4. aaarnhold said

    I am enjoying and applying priciples of your book Resolved, the PDCA process was difficult for me to grasp at first, and the way this is presented in your book has helped me greatly. Thank you.

  5. Maribel Damphousse said

    I love your book “Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life”. The different principles presented backed by historical events, personal testimonies, stories of different people who have succeeded in life makes learning interesting. I can honestly say that my thinking has been shaped for the better after reading this book and my thirst to read more, learn, grow and change has increased. This is one book that everyone should read and learn from, become a better person to build a better world. May God continue to bless you and use you as His instrument to touch many lives.

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