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Improve #8: Where do I start?

We just started to learn about the infamous PDCA cycle and soon will see specific applications related to our industry, but before we do that, first things first. Quality Improvement is not just a healthy philosophy, but an amazing way of life.

So, before we start thinking about how to improve things, we need to concentrate on what to improve. We need to ask ourselves, "What do I need to improve?"

Let’s try a common example of something everyone wants to improve, personal money management.

Although personal money management is very easy in theory, some of the most intelligent people fail to succeed in this area in the real world. Success requires care, discipline, and intentional dedication to managing your income and expenses.

Some people can’t save any money, and some cannot control spending habits. Others may say, “I don’t make enough.”

Although there may be many reasons people experience paycheck-to-paycheck living, there is nothing that prevents us from improving our personal finances. Just remember that improvement requires work and intentional effort.

Let's think of someone that lived through the implementation of the PDCA cycle in his own life in hopes that we will understand how valuable this is in real life.

Johnny Hernandez got used to credit card debt. He worried about increased debts, but got used to paying the "minimum balance" per month. After months and years of making monthly minimum payments on a number of credit cards, the total debt accrued to $25,000. To make matters worse, at this same time, he went through a divorce and lost his job. Expenses continued to rise, but there was no more income. After just a few months, this man is completely broke. He would have become homeless, but a kind person shared an empty apartment with him and his family.

Johnny experienced poverty in levels that he never imagined, however, instead of drowning in debt and despair he made a decision, “I will get out of this hole!”

He found a job, but as single parent, he had additional financial concerns. The good thing is that he never gave up. The same Johnny that used to be a compulsive spender and a poor manager turned into an incredible manager. The salary wasn’t great, but the state of poverty and need pushed him to make the most of the little he had, and this changed his spending habits and poor management.

As he found himself in true poverty, he decided to start recording every expense in a tiny notebook. He recorded everything from a $0.25 highway toll, to a $30.00 phone bill, to an $800 apartment rental. He made a list of his expenses and studied his behavior every time he got a paycheck. This self-awareness helped him realize that there were things he didn’t have to spend money on. He cut expenses again and again and changed his life style. The additional money he saved went to savings.

Creditors were continuously after him, but in a year or two, he had enough money to start paying off some of his large debt. For the next few years, controlling his expenses became a way of life. This led to more savings, and after 9 years, he finally paid his debts.

The great accomplishment was not just the payment of his $25,000 debt, but his transformation into an outstanding financial manager of his own money, because he never went back to his previous state, but rather, he improved all habits related to money management.

Since there were no more payments to his debtors, he kept saving that money, and eventually started his own business and succeeded. It all started with a big problem that turned into a big opportunity for improvement. Johnny became a new person and now he helps people get out of debt by training people how to improve as he did.

Can you identify the PDCA cycle in this story? Johnny executed the PDCA cycle without knowing. Johnny planned, did, checked, and executed an improvement plan that gave him financial freedom for himself and others.

PDCA is a natural cycle but we need to be intentional.

Ask yourself, "How did he implement the PLAN phase?" "What did he do for the DO phase?" "How did he execute the CHECK phase, and what about the ACT phase?" Can you identify PDCA in this story. I'll let you think about it.

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