Organizations involved with business process improvement use different methodologies, approaches, tools and techniques for implementing quality management programs. These management programs have different names in different organizations – TQM (total quality management), Six Sigma, operational excellence, etc. Regardless of the approach and name used, each organization needs to manage a proper selection and combination of its different approaches, tools and techniques to ensure a successful implementation process. Organizations that are looking for opportunities for business process improvement often begin with PDCA or Plan, Do, Check and Act, an iterative four-step management method.

The concept of the PDCA cycle was originally developed by Walter Shewhart in the 1920s and is often referred to as the Shewhart Cycle. It was taken up and promoted effectively from the 1950s on by quality management guru W. Edwards Deming, and is also known as the Deming cycle or Deming wheel. When any organization executes basic process thinking approaches, the main emphasis is on PDCA. All other methods and approaches have evolved from this revolutionary method.

Understanding PDCA

In PDCA, the four stages are as follows:

  1. Plan: The Plan stage focuses on selecting the project, establishing the objectives, defining the process and design, or revising business process components to improve results.
  2. Do: The Do stage refers to implementing what is planned – implementing the action plans and measuring their performance.
  3. Check: This stage verifies that the process achieved the desired results and checks the effectiveness of the corrective action taken.
  4. Act: Finally, the Act stage entails containment, disposition and correction, analyzing any differences and their causes, as well as taking action to improve things.

Quality management systems of the past have emphasized process thinking using PDCA to ensure, for example, the shipment of acceptable product to the customer. In most instances of its use, Check is synonymous with inspection activities – sometimes leading to more than 100 percent inspection of products and no clear verification of the processes. Organizations have been dependent on this inspection phase to ensure the removal of unacceptable products before shipment to the customers.

In actual practice, however, the Plan stage for organizations has become a black-box opportunity finder, waiting for problems to be noticed visibly from the business processes to act upon. And Act has become the weakest link in the complete PDCA cycle, where it is the least emphasized stage of a PDCA improvement cycle. Act is seen as either a standardization process or an improvement process. The input to act comes from Check, which provides inadequate and insufficient feedback for action. The data available from Check for analysis frequently appears as attribute type, leading to options such as OK/NOT OK, YES/NO and GO/NO GO. Root causes for such attribute decisions have been awarded to the only incoming sources of variation – the operators/technicians within the organization. The ultimate root cause leading to improvement is left to the technicians or operators, who are working on the shop floor; the ultimate improvement action leads to “training technician/operators.” The remaining incoming sources of variation (the other of the 6Ms aside from man – method, material, machine, measurement systems and milieu) are given less importance in improvement actions.

With the continuous demand of the customer in one hand and the ongoing needs of the customer on the other hand, methods like Lean Six Sigma play a major role, continually improving all business processes and products. Performance levels have reached single digits in terms of percentage of defects and, most of the time, following Six Sigma, in parts per million instead of a large proportion of defects.

Methodologies like Lean Six Sigma have been working relentlessly to ensure that all the aspects of a business are improved to achieve the process output to a level close to perfection, as demanded by the customers. In such cases, because of increasing product and process complexity and performance expectations, verifying the output for acceptance is no longer sufficient. Organizations must look at the output against robust target performance levels, trying to get as close to the target as possible. The deviation from the target must be understood and continually reduced. According to Taguchi’s philosophy, the goal is to produce closer to the target and continually reduce variability around it.

The Revolutionary PDCA Cycle

Figure 1 shows a map of the PDCA cycle.

Figure 1: PDCA Cycle
Figure 1: PDCA Cycle

Introducing the Evolutionary E3P3 Methodology

The evolutionary E3P3 (“e-cube, p-cube”) cycle is made up of six steps: Evaluate, Evolve, Execute, Perfect, Progress, and Preach and practice. The E3P3 cycle is based on the closed-loop feedback diagram shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: E<sup>3</sup>P<sup>3</sup> Cycle
Figure 2: E3P3 Cycle

The E3P3 methodology incorporates the philosophies of quality management gurus such as Shewhart, Karaou Ishikawa, Joseph Juran, Genichi Taguchi and Deming.

Table 1: Basics Steps Used in E3P3
Evaluate ·         Select project to find what and where to improve

·         Define problem, set targets and schedules

·         All 6Ms are delivered as inputs to the process

Evolve ·         Provide assurance of good inputs (all Ms) to the process

·         Manage appropriate, defined and foolproof resources proactively

·         Ensure the 6Ms can all do well

Execute Effectively execute the plan
Perfect Ensure that the process is performing as planned and that the process output is on target. (If the process input it not on target, the gap in the Perfect step must be recognized and acted upon.)
Progress Leads to improvement in the process (variation is reduced)
Preach and practice ·         Sustainability of the achievement

·         Horizontal deployment

Shewhart’s techniques taught that work processes could be brought under control by determining when a process should be left alone and when intervention was necessary. This highlighted that business processes should be assessed at regular intervals to find the gaps available in the areas of improvement. Ishikawa stresses quality audits – internal as well as external – to understand the present as-is condition of the business or work process. The gap between reality and requirements will enable to determine if action is needed.

Similarly, according to Ishikawa, the most likely process inputs, the Ms, are grouped in the material, method, machine and manpower (4M) categories. These four Ms, the main sources of variation of any process, must be managed proactively instead of being sought after the postmortem through root cause analysis. To act proactively, the business processes of any organization need to be assessed on a regular basis to find out where exactly the process lies.

Table 2: Basic Steps Used in the E3P3 Methodology vs the PDCA Cycle
PDCA Cycle E3P3 Methodology
N/A Evaluate
  ·         Evaluate available area, business processes and/or opportunities

·         Analyze current state

·         Develop baseline

·         Identify gaps/problems in areas/business processes

·         Determine the root cause(s) of the problem(s)

Plan Evolve
·         Plan a change or a test aimed at improvement

·         Determine the root cause of the problem

·         Plan a change or a test aimed at improvement (who, what, when and where)

·         Determine and analyze root cause(s) of the problem(s)

·         Determine the interventions necessary to correct the problem(s)

·         Determine the expected outcomes

·         Determine the responsible parties for the improvement of the problem

·         Prepare appropriate, well-defined and foolproof 6Ms required for improvement

·         Plan resources

·         Determine goals and targets

·         Determine and set metrics for improvement

·         Identify and define roles and responsibilities

·         Design optimal processes, scheduling the steps for correction

·         Set robust targets


Do Execute (Do Well)
·         Implement the plan and measure its performance

·         Carry out the change or the test

·         Monitor results and collect data


·         Implement the plan and measure its performance on a trial basis

·         Carry out the change or the text

·         Monitor results and collect data

·         Continuously check for efficiency

·         Permanently implement if the trial is successful

·         Measure for performance

·         Finalize

·         Train employees

Check Perfect (On Target?)
·         Assess, review and evaluate the result of the change

·         Measure the progress

·         Check for unforeseen consequences

·         Complete the data analysis

·         Verify that the process achieved the desired results against the set target value

·         Measure the process against the set target value (if not at target value, identify variation and remove)

·         Summarize learnings

·         Check for unforeseen consequences

Act Progress (Reduce Variability in Process)
·         Decide on changes needed to improve the process

·         Standardize process changes

·         Communicate changes to all involved

·         Provide training

·         Decide on changes needed to improve the process

·         Standardize process changes

·         Communicate changes to all involved

·         Execute learning from root cause analysis of deviation with the set target value, then optimize

·         Practice more to continually improve

N/A Preach and Practice (Sustain)
·         Identify any training needs or any developments needed for full implementation of improvement

·         Fully adopt the solution for process improvement

·         Continue to monitor solution

·         Find other opportunities for improvement

·         Horizontal deployment

·         Sustain developments

Let’s look more closely at some of the E3P3 stages.

  • Evaluate: The Evaluate stage is not clearly defined, but assumed, in PDCA. In E3P3, it focuses on continuously assessing the business process (the process health) to look for improvement opportunities.
  • Evolve: This is the main preparation stage, where available good inputs or the best inputs to the process are assured before starting the improvement activities. This stage assures that the good 6Ms are going into the processes as a part of the process improvement initiative.
  • Perfect: The Perfect stage ensures that the process is performing as planned and that the process output is on target. If the process output isn’t on target, the gap in the “perfect” step must be recognized, and appropriate actions need to be generated and executed.
  • Preach and practice: This stage, which is assumed in the PDCA cycle, is to ensure horizontal deployment in similar processes or situations. It lays a foundation for continuous learning for employees and across all business processes within the organization.

Using PDCA or E3P3

Whenever any process improvement activities are to be initiated in any organization, going directly for the Plan stage, as defined by PDCA, cycle is difficult. The organization needs to identify and prioritize the vital few from the large number of projects that are available. In such cases, the Evaluate stage of E3P3 identifies and prioritizes those vital few improvement projects in a systematic way.

Similarly, the Perfect stage in E3P3 is more focused on checking against targets that are set from the beginning, which is subjective in nature under Check in PDCA. When implementing E3P3, the PDCA approach can be kept on a standby mode for people who still believe PDCA to be the relevant problem-solving approach. As the situation and requirements evolve, however, to cater to the requirements of customers, E3P3 can replace the PDCA approach in all improvement projects, from manufacturing to service industries.

E3P3 is a more appropriate systematic process improvement methodology for today’s business process improvement methodologies and tools. It comprises a combination of philosophies and principles of five significant quality leaders as shown in Table 3.

Table 3: Philosophies Embedded in E3P3
E3P3 Steps Quality Leader
Evaluate (assess current state, find the gaps) Shewhart, Ishikawa
Evolve (proactively manage inputs, the 6Ms) Ishikawa
Execute (ensure execution at its best) Juran
Perfect (output on target) Taguchi
Progress (reduce variability) Deming
Preach and practice (sustainability) All

The E3P3 process improvement methodology can be implemented in any business process improvement initiative. E3P3:

  • Begins with a systematic understanding of the present situation of the business processes, continuously measures the health of the business processes,
  • Identifies the processes that needs improvement,
  • Prioritizes the vital few process improvement projects,
  • Executes as per the plan with assured good inputs to the process,
  • Verifies the output against a set target,
  • Makes necessary arrangement and modifications if the output does not match with the target value, and
  • Deploys the same learnings in similar processes across the organization.

Why Use E3P3

Consider that the initial Evaluate stage in E3P3 is not only for evaluating the problem, but also for evaluating key organizational support, identifying and evaluating the stakeholders and team members, and evaluating the exact needs of each and every stakeholder in the process.

In PDCA, Plan is defined qualitatively and devoid of any scope for setting a concentrated target value (unlike in E3P3). In PDCA, implementation is geared toward only finding a solution to the present issue/problem, with no set target to match the requirements of the client and competition.


While PDCA has been used for decades, this methodology was ripe for its own process improvement. E3P3 is the next step in organizational excellence.

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