The Problem with “Checking”: Practice SAPD “Study-Adjust-Plan-Do” Instead!

How often does your organization, your team, or even yourself take intentional time to check, to reflect, to study,  and to learn, on the progress that you’re making towards goals or strategic initiatives?

And how okay is it for you or others in your organization or in your team to come forward with problems or “bad news”so that you know how things are going — or not — in reality?

How to Effectively Check: Practice SAPD Instead

In today’s video and article I want to talk with you about the importance of checking and studying as part of the scientific method — Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) or Plan-Do-Study-Adjust (PDSA) cycles — and Hoshin Kanri, known as strategy deployment in English.

And more importantly, I want to talk with you about the problem with “checking.”

I challenge you to flip the acronym of PDCA or PDSA to start with learning — with studying.

Study-Adjust-Plan-Do. SAPD.

Checking is the Process for Learning

The importance of the check function is not to assign blame or to be punitive, but it’s really about understanding  where we’re going and  the progress that we’re making to get there.

It’s an important component of Hoshin Kanri — or strategy deployment —and a critical component of the Plan-Do-Study-Adjust cycle as well.

As I wrote in Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn:

“Reflection is the beginning, not the end, of learning.”

The Problem with PDCA and PDSA

However, I find that often we have a few problems here in the West when we are practicing the scientific method or “checking” in Hoshin Kanri, on progress towards a strategic initiative, or the status work.

First is that we don’t take the time to do “Check-Adjust”or “Study-Adjust”.

We get stuck in the Plan-Do-Plan-Do-Plan-Do cycle without really learning what progress we are making, or the process that we’re going through the roadblocks that we’re uncovering.

We just keep going and doing like we’re throwing darts at the target, but not really understanding if we’re on course or off course. We look just at the outcome, without understanding the process.

Secondly, by the very nature of the word “check” we often see it as a “check the box” type of activity.

Perhaps we do a cursory “check” — did something happen or not?  Checking is just another “task” to do, rather than an opportunity to learn.

And thirdly, it can be seen as punitive: Did you do it or not? Why not?

We “check” without a safe environment to share “bad news” that we are off course or having problems, or perhaps even a mistake is made. Leaders who “check” do so from an attitude of blaming the person, rather than coming at it from a place of learning, of studying the process, and as an opportunity to make adjustments so that we can course correct and get towards the goal that we’re trying to achieve.

How Can We Check to Learn?

I suggest two things as countermeasures to these problems.

First is that we move away from starting the acronym of the scientific method. Let’s not start it with PD or “Plan-Do.” And instead of using “Check-Act”, use “Study-Adjust”.

And the second is that we flip the acronym to start with “Study-Adjust”.



A subtle, but powerful shift in our mindset — and our actions.

The Power of a Change In Mindset: Start With Study

The very nature is starting the cycle with “Plan-Do” can make it easier to get stuck in that “Plan-Do-Plan-Do” cycle without moving onto “checking” or “studying.”

So, let’s start with “Study-Adjust-Plan-Do” and continue from there, and see studying as the beginning of our learning process.


Don’t start with the attitude of “checking-the-box” or wanting to assign blame, but view “checking” really as “studying” and a source of learning.

The Only Secret is an Attitude Towards Learning

As I learned from Mr. Isao Yoshino — the subject of my book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn:

“The only secret to Toyota is its attitude towards learning.”

And this comes from an emphasis on the studying and adjusting that happens from plans and the scientific method. Set a goal, and learn your way towards it.

We cannot keep doing just “Plan-Do-Plan-Do”.

We need to study, reflect, learn, and course correct —adjust and move forward.

Having a regular cadence and set times that you and your team are going to study, check, adjust, and move forward is so critical to being able to achieve goals both small and large on the strategic scale.

Join the SAPD Movement!

You can practice personal SAPD too!

Let’s start using this new acronym — SAPD —  and bring this mindset forward in all that we do from our own personal improvement to smaller problems that we’re trying to solve, to large strategic initiatives.


Starting with reflection as a source of learning is how we are really going to create our own organizations that accelerate towards achieving the goals that we want.

How can you get started with your own practice of SAPD?

Starting with self-awareness (study) and intentional practice and reflection is most important to personal improvement.

CLICK HERE to download the Daily Reflection Template!

This framework for practice is one that Karyn Ross and I introduce in our K2C2 Coaching Cohorts and one that I use in my coaching engagements and courses. It’s simple in concept and powerful in practice if you use it with intention.

Get started on your daily practice of reflection and get on your path towards more intentional leadership and living.!

Read more here about how to use the template and join me in an upcoming course or reach out for 1-1 coaching to be supported in your practice of learning and improvement.

Invitation to Hoshin Workshops focused on “Checking” and creating a “no blame” culture

How do you make adjustments effectively so that you actually achieve those goals, personally and in your organization?

Gain clarity and purpose with these Hoshin workshops, led by Mr. Yoshino and me.

More resources to support your practice of intention

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