A model for learning: Plan-Do-Study-Act

World class performers are generally world class learners; they don’t stop at one great achievement. In fact, they might not treat success much different than failure. Each experience yields information about what works, and what doesn’t. Feed it through an effective model for learning, and out comes knowledge to help them stay on top of their game.

Information is not the same as knowledge

We often confuse information with knowledge. In the finance profession we provide lots of reports to employees at all levels. Reports on profit, performance, satisfaction, inventory, among countless others. Yet, the most important job we have as finance leaders is turning the information in those reports into knowledge. The purpose of measurement is insight, not information.

Experience without theory cannot produce knowledge

So how do we find this elusive knowledge? One very effective way to help employees learn is to employ the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle, also known as the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), Shewhart, or Deming Cycle.

In its simplest form, it works like the scientific method: define your idea, test it, and if it works use it. If it doesn’t work you abandon it, or refine the idea and go through the cycle again. The PDSA cycle is an effective model for learning (and thus improving) just about anything in any industry.

If you want to learn more, here are a couple places to start:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PDCA
http://curiouscat.com/management/pdsa.cfm