Small Tests, Collaborative Learning, & Mr. Potato Head

in Action Learning, Change, Education, health care, Process Improvement

For the last few weeks, I have been testing an experiential exercise to quickly train large groups to use rapid cycle, small tests of change (i.e., PDSA cycles). The exercise involves teams learning through testing how to assemble a toy Mr. Potato Head. I modified the exercise after working with with Dr. Eric Dickson on the faculty for the Instituite for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) Impacting Cost & Quality collaborative. Dr. Dickson is the Senior Associate Dean and President, University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Group in Worcester, Massachusetts. He uses Mr. Potato Head to teach emergency physicians and medical students about lean principles. You can read a description of a session he did for the American College of Emergency Physicians here.

The modified exercise I am testing includes teams developing theories, making predictions, carrying out tests, and measuring results on run charts. In addition, participants learn how to share knowledge across teams and harness the power of the collaborative learning process. I’ve now tested the exercise half a dozen times in public safety, health care, and education audiences and  each session has improved upon the last. And, I have received lots of positive feedback from participants. IHI even bought seven Mr. Potato Heads for the home office for use in the Patient Safety Officer Course and to teach internal staff about PDSA testing.

While the use of a toy produces an element of fun, this exercise, more than many I have used, really enables participants to discover the power of making predictions, using small PDSAs to test theories, and tracking data in real time using time series charts. It’s amazing how sometimes small experiential learning exercises can really connect people with the concepts and facilitate applying them to their improvement work.

You can download instructions for leading the Mr. Potato Head exercise here.