Updated: Jul 16
It can feel overwhelming when you have a big problem to tackle and no idea where to start. Believe me, I’ve been there. There are any number of gurus who will sell you “quick fixes” or condescendingly say that you simply need to improve core instruction and all of your problems will go away –as if its that easy. Sustainable school improvement requires careful planning and consistent evaluation. Without the tools to complete these two tasks, you will be working blind. You wouldn’t wander into a dark forest without a map, you shouldn’t wander into a continuous improvement meeting without one either. In this post, I want to share five of my favorite continuous improvement planning tools.
30-60-90 Day Planning
30-60-90 day planning is my go-to tool when I need to launch a new project. You know the phrase you eat an elephant one bite at a time? Well, 30-60-90 day planning is how you eat an elephant! The planning tasks are simple. Take a big project and decide what you can do in the next thirty days to work towards that goal. Then project out, what will you do in the next 60 days? 90 days? 120 days? Get the picture?
PDSA stands for plan-do-study-act and is a cyclical planning process that is great when you are operating in maintenance mode. I know what you’re thinking: But Matthew, how can we have maintenance mode if we are focused on continuous improvement? With PDSA Cycles of course! Here’s how it goes. First, you think through your immediate improvement plans for whatever process you’re maintaining. Next, you implement your plan – documenting those implementation steps for future reference. During the study phase, review the effectiveness of your previous implementation. Finally, you act upon the outcomes of your review to determine which incremental changes need to be made next. Then, you do it all over again!
DMAIC is a popular planning technique that comes from the world of Six Sigma. It stands for define-measure-analyze-improve-control. This is a great tool when you know that you have a problem in your system and you need to solve it. To start, your team must clearly define the problem with the system. Next you take a baseline measurement to quantify the problem. Then, analyze the data and implement an improvement based off of your analysis. At this point, you want to cycle back to measurement to see if your solution worked. If it did, that’s great! Move on to the control phase where you put structures in place to ensure that your improvement remains in place into the future. If your improvement didn’t work, analyze your data and implement a new improvement until you find the right fix.
Kanban charts come to us from the Kanban Method of workflow management. A Kanban chart is a great tool when you have to monitor multiple moving pieces through established phases – like a sales pipeline. Its simple enough. You have a column for each phase of your process and you move you pieces back and forth among the columns so that everyone knows which phase each piece currently sits.
Process mapping is when you graphically represent the process, or work-flows, used by your team. The goal is to visually capture all of the moving parts including people, documents, defined processes, data stores, external stakeholders, evaluation points, and termination points. While there are tons of neat software packages out there to help you do this, I like to build them in PowerPoint. Its versatile and it makes it easy for me to project my process map during meetings.
Each of these tools has their own strengths and challenges. Its important that you choose the tool that feels right for you and your project. When you’re ready to get started, head over to The Repository and check out my free eBook “Tools that Dive Continuous Improvement”. There you will find a deeper discussion on each of the tools mentioned in this post plus five tools for program evaluation. I have also included printable templates that are ready for you to take to your next strategy session.
Be well on your journey friends – and let me know how I can help.