Stop jumping to solutions! Start with Study-Adjust before you Plan-Do

Do you jump to solutions?

One of the biggest problems we have in problem-solving is our habit to jump to solutions without really understanding what problem we are trying to solve.

We start with planning to implement our great idea — a new system to implement, more team members to hire, a new building to build — without first identifying what this “solution” is intended to fix or solve.

How does starting with studying differ from starting with planning?

This was a question that I was asked in response to an earlier video post about the “problem with checking” and why I encourage us all to move from Plan-Do-Check-Act (or Plan-Do-Study-Adjust) to starting with studying first — #SAPD!

Here is my original answer to this question on LinkedIn that inspired this article and video:

An example is anytime we jump to conclusions or start with a solution without understanding what problem we are trying to solve first (the study/understanding part — or the “left” side of a problem solving A3). We start our plans with a solution in mind without knowing what gap we are experimenting to close. Then we get stuck in Plan-Do-Plan-Do. You’ve now inspired me for another upcoming video post!

This post and the video below is my elaboration about how starting with studying can help us all from jumping to solutions.

I offer you some tangible practices to counteract your habit to jump to solutions and why I encourage us to start with learning first — start with Study-Adjust before we jump into Plan-Do!

Video: Do You Jump to Solutions?


This video has been a provocative one on LinkedIn with many comments both endorsing the idea and expressing reservations about changing the acronym. (You can read comments on my LinkedIn post here).

If you prefer to read my answer, and want some additional thoughts, below is a lightly edited version of the video transcript followed by a keynote where I explored these concepts in the Netherlands in 2018.

What do you think?

My intention in proposing we call the cycle #SAPD is not to change the fundamental scientific method cycle — which is ongoing and endless — yet rather to start the acronym with “Study” to remind ourselves not to just plan-do-plan-do and forget the learning process.

The problem of jumping to solutions

One of the biggest reasons I advocate that we start with studying is because when we start with planning — without first learning, clarifying, and studying what problem we’re actually trying to solve or the gap between where we need to be (our target) and where we are currently (what’s actually happening) — we start creating a bunch of plans and taking action without really clarifying what it is we are wanting to accomplish or achieve.

This is one of the things that happens for us when we leap and jump to conclusions — we are leaping to solutions!

One of our problems is we’re not taking that time to study and learn before we are taking action — before we are making plans — and this is part of the reason we get stuck in a Plan-Do-Plan-Do-Plan-Do cycle.

We are high-execute without being high-learning

We’re not putting the focus on learning either after we have taken action (which is one of the problems with “checking” that I highlighted in the original video that inspired this post), or even before we have started to create plans and then taking action.

Two problems with problem-solving

So, as in our human nature, there are two big problems that I see when we’re doing problem-solving.

First, we assume we know the problem we’re trying to solve.

In actuality, it is a messy problematic condition that we are facing.

This is problematic because we’re then jumping to conclusions!

Second, we assume we know the solution is. 

We assume we know the solution to a problem we haven’t yet defined — or the causes of the problem that we haven’t yet defined.

So, we’re starting with solutions when we start with Plan and Do first.

We jump to implementation!

What if we start with Study first?

In contrast, when we start with Study, we take time to understand and deconstruct the messy problematic condition that is presenting to us.

And we start to understand what’s the real problem.

Then we can frame our plan — our adjustments or ideas that were wanting to try — as experiments. We can ask ourselves:

  • What is the problem we’re trying to solve?
  • What are the potential causes to this problem?
  • What experiments are we going to run to try to see if we can close the gap to solve the problem? What “kaizen” or improvement idea should we try? (be expansive in your thinking!)

If we can frame our plan and our actions as experiments, then it really supports that learning cycle more effectively because we can say:

  • “What did we expect to happen? And, what actually happened?”


If we start with study then we can start by more deeply learning (instead of just planning to implement our great idea of a solution).

We can study our current situation to understand and define:

  • What is happening now?
  • What does better looks like? What should be happening?
  • What are some of the problems or the possible causes of the problem?

Then we can create our plan and test it out by doing.

  • What do we expect to happen?
  • When are we going to try our idea — take the action?

And then once again we can study.

  • What was the difference between what we expected to happen and what actually happened.

If we start with planning and doing — we may not have really have defined either the problem or the causes — and are really missing the learning opportunity.

Don’t ONLY Study

I’m not suggesting that we only study. Studying without doing and trying our ideas doesn’t move us forward.

Rather that we are better at problem solving our actual problems when we are not starting with a solution in mind.  Often our ideas may actually be the needed solution – and it’s great to be creative and generate many possible ideas that we can try – yet how can we slow down to think about what impact do we expect to have if we do our “idea” and then how can this help support our learning/studying after we try it.

Do-Do-Do or Plan-Plan-Plan without the other parts of the cycle too are just as ineffective.

Any one component of the cycle is not effective without the others, and the cycle of learning is continuous and never ending.

And sometimes we may not fully know the problem we are trying to solve — and we need to run experiments to learn more — which is great. We are then being intentional that our “plan” and “do” is to learn more about our current condition and our problem. We are turning the SAPD-SAPD-SAPD wheel.

As I wrote in Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn: “learning is never perfect, and it is never complete.” And that reflection — through studying — is the beginning of learning, not the end, of learning.”

What can you do if you are jumping to solutions?

If you find yourself starting with planning — or with a solution in mind — before understanding what problem you are trying to solve, I encourage you to ask yourself:

“For this idea of a ‘solution’ — the action I want to take or thing I want to implement — what would improve if I took these steps? What would be improved if we did this idea or implemented this ‘solution’?”

Reframing our “solution” as a “what would be improved if we did this idea?” helps us take some time to reflect, and to study and actually understand what problem are we really trying to solve, instead of jumping forward with our urgency to  “Plan and Do” and take action.

Start learning and keep learning your way forward through doing!

I really encourage us to start with Study and Adjust and then Plan-Do.

Keep going with your SAPD cycle and keep learning — and remember, learning is the most important thing, and it is the true secret to success!

Start with Study-Adjust and Plan-Do. And then keep going!

Want to learn more?

Want to go deeper into this topic? Check out a keynote I gave at a conference in the Netherlands in 2018 about problem-solving thinking.

Additional resources to support you

Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn Workbook now available

You asked and I listened! Released in early 2021, the Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn Workbook — a 100-page companion guide to the bestselling book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn — is now available!

The 100-page workbook provides you with exercises, reflection, questions, and additional leadership and coaching practices to connect with your purpose and align your actions with the person and leader you want to be.

Get your copy of the 100-page electronic downloadable workbook today! Click here for more information and to purchase.

Other ways to learn and practice personal kaizen and improvement:

  • Go deeper into the understanding the principles and practices of PDCA and SAPD at Toyota by through the stories within my bestselling book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn.
  • Check out these articles to learn more about the practice of Personal SAPD.
  • And of course continue to explore my website here for many more resources!
  • Sign up for my newsletter – be the first to know of new posts!

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