Get Results You Want: Plan — Do — Measure
Every organization should have a method that guides its core operations in a way that is easy to communicate and simple to apply within its business. Individuals could benefit equally. Through research, experience, and modification, the most effective method we’ve found is a Plan — Do — Measure cycle (PDM), a goal-oriented process that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving.
Of the many values held by impakt Labs, our learning processes have been among the most constructive to us personally, as startup founders. We are experimental and critical in our approach. For example, apart from determining the components of successful businesses, we — equally or perhaps more importantly — pay careful attention to the factors that can contribute to unsuccessful ones.
In the past, we’ve experienced all manners of startup hardships and mistakes; from elastic commitments and deadlines, insular thinking, inconsistent performance, uncertainty about how to recruit help to grow, to not having a guiding philosophy — and our work suffered. Most of the problems startups encounter are derivative of not having (or knowing) effective methods and structures to apply to their behavior and decision making, or being inconsistent in their application. We’ve learned hard lessons thanks primarily to our process-driven problem analysis, rigorous activity, and time-tracking, and we have been able to diagnose recurring issues and take corrective actions that improve our performance. This led us to believe in Plan-Do-Measure, and it has become a core component of our approach to business and life.
We reference Plan-Do-Measure in our work, in our personal habits, and in conversations about business because PDM — our most fundamental framework — describes the way that all decisions are made; it is representative of an empirical and basic view of consciousness and operations of the human mind. Its goal is to analyze patterns of thinking or behavior behind challenges, and affect outcomes in a purposeful evolution. Through this philosophy, we are stating that for each activity a business (or human) does, we first plan to do it, we then do it, and then we look back, consciously or unconsciously, to see how that affected us and somehow incorporate the results from our behavior into our future decisions.
Time frames and motivations vary but the process is simple, instinctual, and repetitive. Our objective is to take this fundamental human process, along with the study of other existing methods, simplify and consciously apply it to actions and decisions made in business. The overall goal is to improve through the efficiency of PDM to make our business more successful and our decisions more streamlined and deliberate.
This methodology is a simplification of existing methods and fundamentals, most notably:
- The OODA Loop — Observe, Orient, Decide, Act — Used extensively by the US military since the middle of the 20th century.
- The Deming Cycle — Plan, Do, Check, Act — A core component of the concept of “Balanced Scorecard” framework for organizational performance that has become a standard in the international business community. Also known as the Shewhart cycle, control circle/cycle, or plan–do–study–act (PDSA).
- Lean Startup — Build, Measure, Learn — A recent movement that has gained enormous traction in the tech community as a way to quickly build and test businesses.
- Bridgewater Principles — Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, has dictated a thorough and purposeful list of principles that guide the operations of Bridgewater and the conduct of its employees, focused heavily on best practices.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy — “Guided by empirical research, CBT focuses on the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems and changing unhelpful patterns in cognitions (e.g., thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes), behaviors, and emotional regulation.”
Plan-Do-Measure is a simple feedback loop. The method can be effectively applied to discrete challenges or ideas, entire companies, individuals and anything in between. The core concept is ubiquitous — practiced by individuals and organizations everywhere — and is applied both consciously and subconsciously.
- Plan: begin with the current state and identify a plan to achieve a desired outcome. Use the most proven strategies to set goals and methods to achieve them, and create positive feedback loops .
- Do: enact a strategy, iterate it, and track its results (e.g. time spent, financial impact, etc.).
- Measure: consider outcomes of the plan, analyze successes and failures and identify their root causes, and use that data to determine the best next steps to improve.
- Repeat: the best results are borne through the process of constant reiteration; it is the only way to ensure consistent revolutionary progress.
To further understand how to Plan-Do-Measure (PDM), it is helpful to add two ancillary loops that explain what happens in-between or during steps that also allows us to see how we most benefit from the cycle:
- Challenge Identification: Between the “Measure” and “Plan” steps a few things happen:
- Problem Identification: If you measure and see that a goal is not being met as expected, it is clear that there is a challenge to overcome. The earlier a challenge is identified and understood, the more proactive you can be in taking steps to resolve it. If many problems are identified, sometimes it’s best to just tackle the biggest one first, and address others in future cycles.
- Find Content or People To Help Solve the Problem: When faced with a problem, people solve it in two ways: they either seek out content that can help solve it (e.g. books, articles, movies, experiences etc.), or they seek out people that can tell them something that will assist in solving the problem. We’ve spent significant time and resources to compile “best practices” and resources and, of course, constantly applying the PDM cycle to that process and the resources.
- Make a Plan to Solve: Once a method is chosen, we apply it back into the PDM cycle and move on the the plan stage based on the content and people that we consulted.
- Consider Prior Experiences: Between the “Do” and “Measure” steps, there are a few things to consider:
- Examine what has been learned: Remember to consider internal sources of knowledge (e.g. self, partners, project history etc.) and prior experiences. When making decisions, apply that knowledge to how strategies are implemented. As knowledge and data is gained, it can then be more effectively applied to the measure step.
What makes the PDM cycle unique is the nature by which we apply it; from the conceptualization of new business and product ideas, to the day-to-day operations in larger organizations, we seek to develop PDM modeled processes that enable maximum productivity and ensure the highest quality of output.
Impakt Labs is consistent in its implementation of PDM — injecting this structure into the everyday lives of our team, not just within the organizations and enterprises with which we are affiliated. From diet and fitness goals, to building meaningful personal relationships, we don’t just apply the PDM framework to goal orientation, we live by it. We’ve even developed Evolution 2, a proprietary habit tracker, to apply PDM in our lives.
The following are the core questions and considerations to ask and answer in applying the PDM method. They are designed to get you thinking critically about situations and can be applied to different situations or problems — business or personal:
- Identify the outcome metric you wish to affect.
- Identify the metric that we / you ACTUALLY care about, not the one that you say you care about.
- What is our current status on that metric?
- What is currently being done to increase it?
- What has been tried in the past?
- What should be done? Is it proven?
- Break down what should be done into concrete tasks with daily scope and individual responsibility.
- Setup habit trackers to track both the tasks that need to be done as well as the outcomes.
- Setup a daily reflection progress to see if everything is going well or not.
- Setup a weekly / every two week process with specific targets.
- If targets are being met, great. Consider raising your objectives in desired areas.
- If not, identify root cause.
- Create a candidate solution.
Impakt Labs is an organization developed with the purpose of consciously expanding the limits of human and business achievement. This consciousness is manifested as feedback loops — specifically, the Plan, Do, Measure (PDM) cycle — which ensures progression toward a goal (or goals) through a process of constant iteration. The intention behind sharing it in such detail is to inspire. If expansion of achievements is a shared aspiration, consider possible applications of this method or tweaks that may make it work better in your business and life. Here is a sample process document that will help you organize your work and get started.
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