First Run Video Studies: Plan-Do-Check-Adjust

Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) is an improvement cycle based on a scientific method of proposing a change, implementing the change, measuring the results, and adjusting as needed. It is also known as the Deming Cycle after W. Edwards Deming who introduced the concept in Japan in the 1950s1.

Taiichi Ohno, credited for much of the thinking behind the Toyota production System, was known for walking onto the shop floor and drawings a circle on the ground. He would stand in the circle and observe, think, analyze and learn what was actually going on. From this study he would then have enough knowledge to improve the process. Lean Construction Institute founders, Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell2, had a similar approach when they discussed “First Run Studies” in the 1997 publication “Implementing Lean Construction: Improving Downstream Performance”. First run studies are used to design and improve work methods through field observations. The implemented improvements become the new standard work method and we repeat the process to enable continuous improvement.

In this post, I want to explain how we, at DPR, use the PDCA cycle and video recording for First Run Studies.

1. Plan
Planning involves choosing an activity to study with the goal of standardizing the work and removing waste. The steps in this process include:

  • Decide which activity to study (ideally the activity is either repetitive or contains a high risk for the project)
  • Assemble the right people (i.e., the people doing the work) who can provide input or impact
  • Brainstorm on what will be the most effective work method for the selected activity
  • Plan for safety, quality and productivity
  • Assign labor, tools, equipment and resources
To conduct a first run study we use standard video recording equipment (figure 1).

Figure 1: Equipment for Video Recording

2. Do
This step involves putting the plan into work. While the activity is underway, we set up a camera to capture the activity. It is not necessary to film all 8 hours of a working day. Just make sure that video captures several complete cycles of the activity. For example, when studying a drywall installation we would record the following activities: Planning, measuring, cutting, material handling and installation of a complete sheet(s) of drywall. Most activities can be captured within 10 – 20 minutes.

Figure 2: Recording a Scope of Work

3. Check
Include craft who performed the work in the improvement process. The people doing the work are much closer to the waste in the processes and will likely know the best way to improve upon it. Below is a spreadsheet we use to break down a video into Value, Necessary Non-Value and Waste. At each point in time, we look at the video and determine which bucket the activity falls into.

Figure 3: Classifying the Work Into Categories

4. Adjust
Gather all thoughts and ideas from the craft who performed the work and design a work method that will become the new standard. This is one of the best ways to introduce innovations on your project by engaging the craft in the improvement process. Once they realize that they play a significant role in designing work methods, solving problems and making project improvements, they will develop and share ideas more openly.

The most difficult challenge in implementing the first run study is to get buy-in from the craft workers. It is important to emphasize that the video studies are designed to help the workers improve and make the company more competitive. The videos are not used for monitoring and controlling purposes (e.g., big brother) or for layoffs. Table 1 shows some of the push backs that we receive from the trades and our responses.

Table 1: Push Backs and Responses

Through the use of First Run Video Studies we have made significant improvements to our labor productivity. Some additional benefits of this practice includes:
  • Improving in the identification of safety hazards
  • Improving material inventory batches and stocking locations
  • Identifying needs for better or more appropriate tools & equipment
  • Optimizing the crew size and to reduce waste in waiting
  • Increasing craft moral and work satisfaction
  • Improving quality by eliminating rework in errors
  • Decreasing the schedule time

Lessons Learned
Our key lessons learned are:
  • Go and See (Gemba)
  • Ask why?
  • Show respect for the people performing the work
  • Involve the craft in problem solving
  • Learn to see waste in our work methods
  • Make improvements (Kaizen)
  • Create standards
  • Repeat
In the construction industry, craft worker salaries represent the single large expense on a project and yet they are often an underutilized resource. Their feedback, expertises, and potential are often not fully realized. The First Run Study gives us a means of engaging with the craft worker and getting their help to improve the work processes.


[1] Deming Institute, 'PDSA Cycle' Available at: Deming Institute

[2] Ballard, G. and Howell, G. 1997, 'Implementing Lean Construction: Improving Downstream Performance' Available at: Lean Construction DK

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