The PDSA cycle and the Power of Prediction

Have you ever been facilitating a project and the team has come to the conclusion that a lack of knowledge is the root cause of your problem and education will fix it?  I think this has happened to at least 50% of the projects I’ve worked on.  Yet despite us assuring the team that education is a weak change agent, the team is still confident it will work. How do you get the team to see things differently?  

One of the tactics I use with teams planning PDSA cycles is to have them predict what the outcome of the test will be. Most commonly the prediction is that it will improve the outcome, however the key here is to push the team on specificity.  If it will improve, by how much does the team predict it will improve the outcomes?  This does two things: 1- It quickly exposes ideas that the team knows won’t have much of an effect in real life (ie: standalone education) and 2- It forces the team to think critically about what is proposed and what it will do in the system it is being applied to.  This is an incredibly powerful exercise and often leads to new solutions, or adjustments to what is proposed.   

In David Epstein’s book, Range, he shares: “obstacles that make learning more challenging, slower, and more frustrating in the short term” can make it “better in the long-term,”.  This same principle appears to be born out with predictions in the PDSA cycle.  By being challenged to make a prediction we are forced to encounter the obstacle.  We run through the solution systematically, testing what assumptions have been made, how people will interact with it, and recognizing where we can make adjustments towards a better solution.  

The next time you prepare to run a PDSA cycle, try predicting the impact of the test and see how the team responds.  I’d love to hear how it goes! 

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