Woohoo! You’ve just launched a new training program and rolled it out to the organization. Time for high fives, right?

Not so fast… If you’ve been learning about Lean, you know that all problem solving activities are guided by the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle, in which you repeat the cycle until you’ve eliminated enough waste and added enough value to achieve a significant—and measurable—improvement in performance.


When I coach my Lean for Training and Lean for Safety Training candidates, we often see a lot of enthusiasm for the Plan and Do phases, but a bit of foot dragging in the Study phase, in which you evaluate whether your solution is achieving its goal.

Totally understandable. After all, Study is the least “fun” of the four PDSA phases. We all love to “Plan”…so many possibilities! And we really love to “Do” …bring the plan to life!

But studying to see if our Plan and Do phases were effective? What’s fun about that? In fact, it could be disappointing and uncomfortable if the results don’t measure up to the goals.

Why Focusing on Study Matters

When people ignore Study, they often fail to create truly effective, efficient solutions and don’t deliver the results for which they’ve been tasked.

  • They take on projects that have little chance of meaningful success.
  • They waste time, money and resources implementing solutions that either don’t achieve the goal or, worse, that don’t even HAVE a goal.
  • They invest in technology without proving whether people will actually use it and how its capabilities will measurably improve performance.

How to Focus on Study

To succeed in the Study phase of the PDSA cycle, you first need to develop a measurable goal in the Plan phase. If you’re tasked with developing training, remember the Lean for Training mantra: The only true measure of success is a measurable improvement in on-the-job performance. It doesn’t matter whether people “enjoyed” the learning solution or how many people took it. Measuring anything other than performance improvement is Training Waste.

If you’ve done your work in the Plan phase, the Study phase is much easier. All you’ll need to do is collect and review on-the-job performance data. Enlist your learners and their managers to help. Discuss the results of the learning solution with them, listening carefully for “holes” that your learning solution may have missed.

When you’re in the Study phase, you want to:

  • Find out which parts of the solution were most effective in delivering results.
  • Identify changes that would make the solution more efficient.

This process can actually be fun because you’ll get to really see the impact your work can have on your organization’s mission.

Be Brave!

Focusing on the Study phase is scary at first because it holds you accountable for your solutions. You may discover that your solution didn’t work very well because your problem statement was wrong or your learnscape map was inadequate.

That’s okay! Take heart; the PDSA is a cycle. When Study reveals problems, you simply go through the cycle again with more knowledge and experience, which helps you succeed the next time around.

Study = Respect

The Study phase may be hard, but it’s also where you’ll achieve your highest personal and professional satisfaction. Study turns you from an order taker into a problem solver. Really digging into a situation and bird-dogging a solution until it produces clear success before full roll-out will earn you credibility and a reputation for creating learning solutions that have a real impact on your organization’s goals.

So the next time you find yourself resisting the Study phase, stop and picture how you’ll feel when you have real results to share. Sales increased by 15%! Safety violations decreased 50%! Customer satisfaction doubled!

You’ll be generating tangible results that will bring you amazing credibility and career success. And that’s worth a little discomfort, right?

~ Todd Hudson