How can Mr. Potato Head teach someone about PDSA cycles?

David M. Williams, PhD, Improvement Advisor, TrueSimple

It was actually — another faculty member was using Mr. Potato Head in a totally different context. And, so, he had a whole bunch of Mr. Potato Head parts in a box, and he was using them to have medical students try to figure out the complexities of working with different patients, and I, at the same time, was struggling because I was working with a big program in England, and I had done just about every PDSA exercise that I’d ever seen and was on my fourth or fifth. We’d done airplanes, we had done the 2-4-6 exercise, we had utilized all these different techniques, but I was struggling to find something that connected all the dots — that included both testing changes, but also incorporated measurement, which is a key part of our theory.

So, when I saw this physician use the potato head in this different exercise, I said, “This might work for doing PDSAs.” So I built an exercise — a very simplistic one — and tested it on one group, as I was trying to teach them about PDSAs, and blended both testing and measurements. So the testing was to try to take all the parts out of the body and put it together in a certain fashion, but then we blended measurement that included an accuracy score and a time score and tried to see if we could get teams to put it together faster and faster through iterative testing.

Now, several years later, it’s been done around the world, I think almost on every continent. A number of our faculty uses it, and I jokingly say that we contribute to more purchases [than] — or second to, I should say — toy story for purchases for Hasbro’s Mr. Potato Head.