Tell Me About It

Export your lessons learned to spark innovation

by Nicole M. Radziwill

This article was featured in January 2016’s Best Of Back to Basics edition.

The notion that improvement methods must and do evolve is not new. In the November 2010 issue of QP, Ronald Moen and Clifford Norman examined the history and evolution of W. Edwards Deming’s plan-do-study-act (PDSA) improvement cycle.1 They traced its origins from the modern scientific method in the 17th century to inductive reasoning as a means of generating new knowledge, and then to the influence of pragmatism and empiricism brought on by the Shewhart cycle in 1939. Finally, PDSA emerged and it reflected the importance of learning in process improvement. The authors concluded, "the PDSA cycle remains relevant and continues to evolve."

In 2000, Han van Loon shared his adaptation of the Deming cycle in QP. He called it STARS, which stands for set goals, think, act, review and supply improvements. Van Loon said STARS helps employees who are unfamiliar with PDSA relate continuous improvement to quality management, and it avoids confusion between the "do" and "act" steps of PDSA.2

Years later in QP, Praveen Gupta proposed that the 4Ps—prepare, perform, perfect and progress—should be used to achieve virtually perfect outputs. He explained PDSA is only aimed toward acceptable outputs, not perfection.3

Digital revolution

Methods evolve to satisfy changing needs and shifting environments. Since the Deming cycle was updated in the 1990s, information, videos and people have become widely accessible online.4 I recommend a simple, high-impact adjustment to PDSA to help every quality improvement effort contribute to the greater good. After the "act" step is complete, you must export the lessons learned and the insights gained and make them available to the world online.

Plan-do-study-act-export (PDSA-X) supports the collaborative pursuit of excellence across organizational boundaries, geography and time. It promotes the emerging concept of social ideation to stimulate community-driven innovation, and it links disparate improvement cycles. Adopting PDSA-X encourages active reflection on the knowledge you’ll leave behind for others. If you’re working with highly proprietary data, you also must consider the appropriateness of exporting that information.


Based in part on Moen and Norman’s outline of PDSA, PDSA-X includes the following steps:

  • Plan: Plan a change or test aimed at improvement.
  • Do: Carry out the change (preferably on a small scale).
  • Study: Examine the results. What did you learn? What went wrong?
  • Act: Adopt the change, abandon it or complete the cycle again.
  • Export: Tell your story. Record the lessons learned online so that others can benefit from your knowledge and insight.

You may not think that you’ve uncovered something interesting or remarkable, but someone might at some point. For example, I started my blog as an experiment to see whether anyone would be interested in my quality-related nuggets. Four years and tens of thousands of hits later, I can reliably report the answer is yes.

There are many ways to export your insights:

  • Share your experience at an ASQ section meeting.
  • Present at the World Conference on Quality and Improvement or a regional ASQ conference.
  • Post your outcomes on ASQ’s Communities, which are online discussion boards at http://community.asq.org.
  • Publish your findings in a magazine or journal (find an ASQ publication that meets your interests at http://asq.org/pub).
  • Start a blog (or connect with an ASQ Influential Voices blogger at http://asq.org/voice-of-quality and ask about guest posting).
  • Provide comments and answer questions on blogs and forums.

The beauty of exporting also means you can become a time traveler. Long after you’ve forgotten about what you learned this week, someone on the other side of the world might find the breadcrumb you just left behind.


  1. Ronald Moen and Clifford Norman, "Circling Back," Quality Progress, November 2010, pp. 22-28.
  2. Han van Loon, "STARS of Quality Management," Quality Progress, September 2000, p. 136.
  3. Praveen Gupta, "Beyond PDCA—A New Process Management Model," Quality Progress, July 2006, pp. 45-52.
  4. Ronald Moen, Thomas Nolan and Lloyd Provost, Improving Quality Through Planned Experimentation, McGraw-Hill, 1991, p. 11.

Nicole M. Radziwill is an assistant professor at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. She earned a doctorate in technology management and quality systems from Indiana State University in Terre Haute. An ASQ fellow, Radziwill is an ASQ-certified quality manager and Six Sigma Black Belt.

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