PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) is a popular iterative methodology to fix a problem or improve a process. 

Developed and promoted by Drs. Deming and Shewhart, it’s used as a cycle of examining a problem, collecting some data, improving the process and then monitoring it to be sure your improvement was successful. If not, you repeat the cycle. 

The preceding FOCUS expands the methodology and combines with PDCA to form a comprehensive approach to problem-solving and process improvement.

Overview: What is FOCUS PDCA? 

The FOCUS PDCA approach was developed for the healthcare industry. It’s an extension of the classic PDCA methodology, where FOCUS is a set of activities that precedes those used in the PDCA cycle. 

The components of FOCUS PDCA are:

  1. Find a process to improve: Sometimes the problem is obvious. Sometimes you will discover a problem using such tools as value stream maps, Pareto Diagrams, control charts, or other process tools.
  2. Organize a team: Your team should consist of people who are doing the process, process customers and suppliers, and those who might be subject matter experts in specific elements of the process.
  3. Clarify the current state of the process or problem: You need to collect data on the process so you have an objective understanding of the process rather than subjective anecdotal information. You might use the 6W approach to ask questions.
  4. Understand the problem: After collecting data in the step above, you will want to understand the process variation and what might be the root cause of your problem.
  5. Select a strategy for improvement: Using brainstorming and other solution-generating tools, you can start formulating recommendations for improvement.

The PDCA, used in the context of FOCUS, is a variation of the original PDCA. 

  1. Plan: In the standard PDCA approach, the Plan step is where the problem is defined and a solution developed. In FOCUS PDCA, that was done in the Select stage. In FOCUS PDCA, Plan is where you start planning for the implementation of your solution. 
  2. Do: If it was not done as a part of FOCUS, data must be collected to characterize the condition of the process before changes are made. Then the required changes are made — that is, the plan is implemented.
  3. Check: Did your changes make a difference? Collect data and compare the actual results against your projected or target results. If your results were not achieved, you can go back and review the previous steps, possibly even starting at the beginning again.
  4. Act: Similar to Control in the DMAIC process, you will want to put things in place to “maintain the gain.”

3 benefits of FOCUS PDCA 

Any improvement methodology will have benefits for the organization. Some of the specific ones related to using FOCUS PDCA are discussed below. 

It’s comprehensive 

The FOCUS PDCA approach starts at the beginning by identifying the problem and ends with a control plan in place to ensure your improvements don’t disappear over time.

It’s simple 

Most of the tools used in FOCUS PDCA do not involve complex statistical analysis. Many are intuitive and don’t require deep analytical skills. This means almost everyone can serve on the team without worrying about whether or not they have the necessary skills. A good attitude, an openness to collaborating, and being open to change are the primary skills your team members will need. 

It provides a framework 

This approach provides a simple 9-step framework and guidelines for consistently addressing and resolving process problems.

Why is FOCUS PDCA important to understand? 

As a simple but powerful tool for improvement, your understanding of how to use it will be beneficial both to you as well as your organization. 

It keeps you focused

As the acronym suggests, by focusing on a specific problem and using a focused problem-solving approach, you will get better results and improvements. 

It fosters engagement 

As the CFO of a well known corporation was fond of saying, “The best ideas come from our people.” Understanding and applying FOCUS PDCA will give you the opportunity to engage a wide range of business employees and foster a culture of continuous improvement.

It helps you understand your process 

The use of FOCUS PDCA forces you to gain greater insight and understanding of your process. Knowing what to do — and how to do it better — will make your organization better able to satisfy your customers. 

An industry example of FOCUS PDCA 

A large healthcare organization had a run of problems regarding the wrong administration of meds to patients on the hospital floor. They initially used a FMEA to explore the specific problem areas. After identifying the possible source, they formed a team to develop specific recommendations to eliminate the problem.

The team utilized the FOCUS PDCA approach to identify, define, understand, and eventually improve the process. Through the use of technology, they were able to come up with a number of solutions. One was the delivery of meds to the patient floor via robotic carts with a safety mechanism that prevented disbursing the wrong med. They used a signature verification technology to prevent mistakes caused by handwritten scripts. They also implemented better drug labeling to prevent accidental administration of the wrong drug or wrong dosage.

3 best practices when thinking about FOCUS PDCA 

Like any improvement method, there is the right way to use it and a not-so-right way to use it. Here are some suggestions for the right way to do it.

1. Involve the right people

Your team should be selected to take advantage of the most appropriate people for the problem at hand. Don’t necessarily rely on volunteers, but hand-select those you feel have the right skills and knowledge to make maximum contribution to the team. 

2. Avoid coming in with a solution 

The purpose of FOCUS PDCA is to fully understand the nature and root causes of the problem. The solution will result from that deep understanding. Don’t come in with preconceived notions of root causes and solutions. Trust the process of FOCUS PDCA.

3. Communicate  

Frequent communication will prevent many unexpected surprises. Keep in close communication with the appropriate level of management, important stakeholders, and other people involved in the process. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about FOCUS PDCA

1. What does FOCUS PDCA stand for? 

Find, Organize, Clarify, Understand, Select, and then Plan, Do, Check, and Act. 

2. Can FOCUS PDCA be used in any function? 

While FOCUS PDCA was originally developed for application in healthcare, it’s easily adaptable and flexible for solving any problem in any organization. 

3. Is there a difference between FOCUS PDCA and FOCUS PDSA? 

Not really. In the original development of PDCA, the C stood for Check. Dr. W. Edwards Deming revised the acronym a little by substituting Study for Check.

Summing up FOCUS PDCA 

PDCA is a common tool for solving problems and improving processes. The healthcare field expanded the approach by adding five preceding activities they referred to as FOCUS. 

In total, the FOCUS PDCA approach is a powerful yet simple method for addressing a business problem, and through the active involvement of your people, you can identify and implement improvement solutions at your organization.

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