Try PDCA- for Better Communication

Originally published on LinkedIn on August 26, 2015

Misunderstandings lead to unwanted costs.


It sounds so fancy to talk about our interconnected world, globalization and how our company has gone international. Typically, what this brings about is an increased need to interact and coordinate actions between people sitting in different countries and perhaps different time zones.

Amazingly, we may just be learning to communicate effectively with our own local teams and now we are required to work together with people that may not even speak our language.

Either way we have to make it happen, so I thought I’d share a concept we have included in our book about Lean Communication.

While a misunderstanding in itself is considered waste, it can lead to the creation of additional and very costly wastes when things simply don’t get done, don’t get done on time or get done incorrectly.

A scientific approach to improved communication

PDCA is a powerful concept tracing back to the scientific method, adopted by Deming, Shewhart and widely used at Toyota. It stands for Plan, Do Check and Act and it embodies a cycle that drives learning and continuous improvement.

Just because we know what WE are talking about and what WE mean, does not necessarily mean that everyone else will understand the intended ideas, requests or instructions we hold in our minds. As we take responsibility for being clearly understood by others, we might consider adopting a PDCA attitude.

This implies that through a process, we will determine if the other person clearly got our message and on the way we might also learn how to improve our delivery to others, so that things can flow smoothly in the future.


Who are you communicating with? Do they speak your language? Are they from a different culture?

What are you trying to achieve?

Is it best to convey the message face to face or via mail? One on one or with others?

Avoid jargon and buzzwords in your message and plan to explain acronyms.


Deliver your message using the chosen method of communication. Send your message in small chunks: if you convey eight things at the same time, the receiver may only be able to focus on one or two. Avoid distortions and make sure the message is being sent with all the information needed.


Don’t ask the other person IF they understood. Ask WHAT they heard. A few cultures will respond yes to an IF,  just to save face. This is normal and natural for them and you may get a wrong impression and carry on incorrectly.


I personally like the use of Adjust instead of Act-  Putting it simply, after you have learned how others receive your message, you can adjust and improve your delivery so that each time you can get to clarity faster.

We still cannot read minds - yet we have become more interdependent on the coordinated actions with others required to achieve results. Coordination calls for excellent communication and by using PDCA, perhaps we can start to improve our execution and performance by improving the clarity of the messages we continually exchange in order to get things done.

The concept of using lean in our communication process is more valid today that it has ever been. Enjoy the journey and try PDCA!