Welcome back to the course on Effective Leadership! I’m going to get into the topic of management concepts for leaders today, so that they can manage their teams. It will cover the PDCA cycle and management functions. Cool?

Management concepts for leaders:

Hello there, everyone! The PDCA cycle is a management model that aims to improve processes continuously. You can apply it to the most diverse situations and also repeatedly – and even take advantage of specific parts to your will.

The PDCA cycle consists of four parts: Plan, Do, Check and Act. Created by Dr. Deming, an American engineer and statistician. He is considered the father of modern quality control and his theories substantiated ISO 9001 a lot. Through the PDCA cycle, people and organizations are able to create standard stages of their projects, adapt them to their reality, execute them and improve results for the next version or cycle. 

Understanding the PDCA cycle.

The PDCA cycle is one of the management concepts for leaders that is especially useful because it helps to structure a basis of continuous improvement processes. This is the “technique” or thought of constantly revisiting processes and improving based on learning, where many companies fail. It is very common to only think about improving 1) when the process is run again after a short period of time (since changes are easier to implement) or 2) when the pain of the error was very traumatic.

Now, for those little pains that are easy to get used to, the PDCA cycle is incredibly powerful. And it’s those pains, accumulated, that start to cause stress in the team and that will be raised when you are in a tense confrontation process.

It will also be useful for conducting small, controlled improvement cycles, to avoid wasting time on large-scale projects that can go wrong. And of course, the good thing is that you can apply it in any kind of business or project.

The only downside to running a PDCA cycle is that you will have to follow the process. Although you can adapt it to your reality, skipping a step or doing it when only you want to will take much of the benefit from it: realizing the need and implementing the improvements. And for you to be able to execute it, the whole team has to collaborate. There is no way for you, as a leader, to do it yourself – and there is no way for members to do it without the support of leadership.

Applying the PDCA cycle in practice.

We will now go through the four parts of the PDCA cycle in practice for leaders.

The first step is to plan. During this stage, we map what we are trying to solve or achieve, or change with the process. You must identify and analyze the problem or opportunity for change, develop hypotheses and what are the causes of the problem – and then decide which hypothesis to test first.

This term, hypothesis, has been used a lot nowadays to describe ideas of things that can work and the intended result. Then you validate this hypothesis: did the expected effect really happen? 

You may ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the central problem you are trying to solve?
  • Should this really be the focus and priority at the moment?
  • What information do we still need in order to fully understand the problem and its root cause?
  • Is it possible to solve it?
  • What are the possible solutions?
  • How will we know if it has been solved or not? That is, what are the success metrics?
  • What resources do we need? What do we have?

It is essential at this stage that you have a balance of allowing the team to participate, but also of not going too much off topic, as brainstormings can take endless hours and get nowhere. Beware of information in excess.

Probably the most important thing here is that you define what the success metrics and goals will be. Success metrics are the numbers and factors that you will track during execution. The goal is the value of that metric that you want to achieve. This, and only this, will define whether your project was a success or not.

Executing your improvement cycle project.

In the stage Do, we test your hypothesis or we execute the proposed solution. I recommend that you use the PDCA cycle focused on incremental changes, so that you can execute, validate and analyze calmly and in short steps, promoting small improvements instead of focusing on the next big thing.

This is also great from the leadership point of view, as you promote small gains in sequential ways. Also, if there is any failure, you don’t need time to recover and can quickly move on to the next project.

The “PDCA cycle manual”, that explains these management concepts for leaders, says that the ideal scenario is that the improvements proposed by your test do not involve a large execution project. And that you don’t need to allocate a lot of personnel effort, so your operation maintains continuity. In this stage of execution, focus on small efforts. Remember Pareto principle?

Then, as a third step, we have Check, a moment in which we review and analyze the results achieved. It’s particularly important because it allows you to see what you wanted to happen, what actually happened and to review which parts of your plan worked, which didn’t work and what happened that wasn’t even mapped.

Yes, there are variables that sometimes we don’t count on, but it ends up having a surprising effect. I recommend using the AAR process.

This moment is very important because it’s the one which will “define” if the project was a success or not. That is why it was so important to define the success metrics back there.

Implementing your plan in fact.

The last step, Act, is when we implement your experiment in real life: it becomes part of the “real” process. While the project carried out on the PDCA is an experiment to test the validity of your hypothesis, after its completion and success, you have to incorporate it into the real process.

Now you have to focus on its implementation: what will you need to make it happen? Are there any changes to the tools used? Will training or adaptation of the procedure manuals be necessary?

Note that your effort here must revolve around ensuring that this short experiment is well incorporated into the day-to-day processes and work. If the experiment goes“wrong”, you can go back, improve the hypothesis, the plan, the metrics and run it again. Therefore, I think that in almost all the videos and content on the PDCA cycle that I have seen, there is a lot of content specifically about these minor experiments, in which it will be possible to try, try and try again.

The PDCA cycle as one of the management concepts for leaders.

For leaders, the PDCA is crucial for you to be able to plan, coordinate and control your processes, which are the functions of management. As a leader, you will be expected to improve your results over time. I think the situation is very rare when you are in a leadership role that only expects maintenance – although it does happen, especially for more supervisory positions.

Therefore, your focus as a manager and leader will be to run these processes with your team. Conduct the stage of generating ideas and hypotheses, decide which ones will be implemented and, of course, monitor the execution and learning.

Therefore, your specific goal here will be much more to learn these processes of ideation and implementation, since running them is already part of a leader’s routine. 

Included in the PDCA cycle as one of the most important management concepts, I would also like to mention the functions of management, because then it becomes easier for you to understand how to fit the Deming cycle in it.

The functions of management.

We need to understand that a huge chunk of a manager’s routine involves, of course, in addition to those tasks mentioned in the first lesson, to Plan, to Organize, to Execute and to Control. These steps involve any execution of any specific project or process.

Planning is the stage, of course, in which you reflect on your goals – much like planning in the PDCA cycle. Organizing, on the other hand, has to do with moving and assigning the resources necessary for the plan to be carried on. We are talking about physical goods, but also financial resources and personnel – and time too, to make it more evident.

We learn in Business school that, after planning and before action, there is this period during which we plan how the tasks should be done to meet our schedule. At least in theory, it works. When we learn these management concepts for leaders, we see that we have to make this happen. It won’t happen spontaneously.

Now, when we really talk about the role of leading and managing people, we talk about Executing- or also directing. Here, we are mentioning the actual delivery of what was in the plan.

Note that some versions that teach about the functions of management mention Directing, because they emphasize the role of the manager in managing from afar almost – but I like to put emphasis, as with many other authors, that you focus here is not on directing, but ensuring delivery. Although it can be practically the same thing, it can also have several different implications. But I’m not going to go into that much now.

Finally, we have Controlling, which involves analysis of metrics, reworking, iteration and learning. You, as an administrator, must ensure that the execution is achieving the desired effects, so there’s a great emphasis on tracking numbers.

How to ensure that the PDCA cycle happens in all projects.

The best way for you to guarantee that the PDCA cycle happens in all projects and processes is to make sure that there is a closing process. Just to give a quick example: I see that a group perception that something went wrong or something went well is the best way to push people into action, ensuring that the error is avoided in the next iteration and / or that improvement is fully integrated into our daily routine.

After this moment of closure of this chain of processes in the functions of management, when the tensions are raised, you as a leader should delegate tasks to your direct reports, so that they are empowered to integrate the improvements into the process. From there, after around three improvement projects are implemented, you start to have this PDCA cycle occurring in a more natural way.

As a second step, I would recommend introducing the full theory in a more robust way, so people feel even more empowered to execute the improvement cycles. That is why it’s vital to learn about management concepts for leaders.

Here is what happens: in my experience, when we introduce a concept or theory abruptly, it tends to be somewhat dismissed or it faces resistance. Therefore, I prefer to introduce it silently, to test acceptance and to understand the possible resistances, and then present it as a project. Of course, this is how it works for me in general. It’s worth checking out how it will be with your specific team.

Why talk about management concepts for leaders?

Cool? Did it make sense? Can you draw the parallels? It’s not uncommon to see the PDCA cycle, albeit erroneously, being used to refer to functions of management. For a while I also used the two interchangeably. And it’s okay. The focus of this lesson was on you understanding how the functions of management are structured at the most basic level.

In the end, functions of management, as essential management concepts for leaders, refer to the routine of the administrator or manager. The PDCA cycle is used, and was created, to improve processes continuously. Although the two have many similar practical uses, it is important to distinguish the purpose of each.

While you have to implement the PDCA cycle, the functions of management simply exist. Although, of course, you can follow them in a more or less structured and planned way.

The goal and greater focus on you learning a part of this theory was for you, as a leader, to understand better your role as a manager – which exists and is inherent in all leadership roles. No one is hired as a team coordinator just to be the motivator. You have to be an administrator as well. That is why I reject this dichotomous comparison to some degree.

How about that? Better than that, just twice that.

To recap what we saw in this lesson:

We learned here about the PDCA cycle and the functions of the management.

The functions are: Plan, Organize, Execute and Control. They refer to the routine of any business and leadership and management of people and projects.

The PDCA cycle is a method created to improve processes. With its application, you can make small improvements over time to increase the efficiency or effectiveness of a process, project or department. So, you don’t worry about making big improvement projects, but you get better step by step.

Your role as a manager is to understand how your team’s functions of management are structured and to conduct these improvement processes. As I said, rarely is a manager hired just to monitor and not to promote any change or improve the results. For that, knowing the application of the PDCA cycle will be essential.

In the next lesson, on Effective Communication, the topic will be the biggest communication mistakes between leaders and their direct reports, and I will present the Diagram of Communication, a visual way to understand and improve your communication with people.

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Always look both ways. See you in the future.

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Always look both ways. See you in the future.