The Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle of improvement (also known as Plan, Do, Study, Act) is common among process improvement nerds like myself. Really though, there’s no business-magic to it. P-D-C-A is based on the scientific method, which is simply a structured way of learning, similar to what comes to most of us naturally. The structure helps cultivate a mindset of unending improvement in your game.
During the planning part of the cycle, the topic of improvement is chosen, observations are made, goals are identified and a change is devised. This change should be viewed as the best hypothesis currently available. In a Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition context, many groups (mine included) struggle with initiative tracking. An evening or two of play will provide you with plenty of observations, and a discussion with your cohorts should give you some ideas of small change. “Let’s write the initiative order on a white board, so we can all see…”
After the plan, it’s time to do. Give your change a try. This experiment will test the hypothesis created during the planning phase. Round up a white board and some pens; convince someone to use it for a few encounters.
When it comes to solving problems, this is, unfortunately, where the effort often ends. If the change works at all, great – what other opportunities are there to make it even better? If the change doesn’t help… the suffering continues. Take a few minutes after your game and check your results. What worked well? What didn’t? Did you learn anything unexpected? What else emerged during the experiment? “I couldn’t read the board from where I was sitting, can we move it?” Perhaps the person using the board had trouble keeping track of his own character while wrangling the pens.
Then take what you learned and take the new ideas and act on them. This pushes you back around to planning for your next improvement. Think about a better place for the board; “we can track conditions here too, that way the healer knows when anyone is bloodied…”
The P-D-C-A cycle can be applied to all phases of your game. While it’s probably most useful for creating norms around the table (such as the above mentioned encounter tracking), Dungeon Masters should be thinking in these terms all the time. The planning and doing comes with the job. Check how those encounters worked by asking your players and doing some self reflection. What might work better next time?
There are a few things that can really help the P-D-C-A mentality take off: be clear about the purpose of any change. Most don’t like change for change’s sake, especially if the change wasn’t their idea. Keep most of your changes small, discrete and review them often.
If you’re still interested, here is a short video by from a webcast by Robert Lloyd, PhD from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement with a further explanation. This can also be found at the Curious Cate Management Improvement Blog