How Peyton Manning Demonstrates PDSA

Posted on January 29, 2014 | in Football, Leadership, PDSA, Problem Solving, Quality, Sports, Teamwork | by
peyton manning

Peyton Manning making play calls at the line is an example of PDSA. (USATSI)

Plan-Do-Study-Adjust (or Act) is a simple cyclical continuous improvement tool that we all use every day but don’t often realize it. Properly applied, PDSA helps us properly define a problem and determine a potential solution, enable the solution, and see if that solution worked. On Sunday, we are going to see a fantastic demonstration of PDSA every time Peyton Manning comes to the line during the Super Bowl. Here’s how he demonstrates it…in 25 seconds or less.

john fox denver broncos

Manning gets the play call from the coaches on the sidelines based on the game situation.


The game situation (score, time remaining, down and distance, field location) will dictate to the Broncos’ offense what play to run. The play is signaled in to Manning from the sideline and player substitutions are made (if necessary). The situation analysis leads to the plan of action for the Denver offense that they hypothesize will be effective.

peyton manning huddle denver broncos

Manning relays the play call to his teammates in the huddle so they are ready to execute.


Manning will make the play call in the huddle and the players will line up to run the play. Manning and his teammates are ready to execute this play.

peyton manning survey defense denver broncos

Manning studies the defensive alignment and determines what adjustments to the play call, if any, need to be made.


Manning surveys the defensive look – the defensive scheme, the number of linebackers vs. secondary defenders, what defenders are in the game, who is moving and who is lined up against whom – and sends a pass catcher in motion to see how the defense adjusts. Based on this information, Manning can tell if the play his offense is currently prepared to execute will be effective. His analysis will either confirm or reject the offense’s hypothesis that the play will be effective.

peyton manning signals denver broncos

Manning relays a change in the play call to the offense.

Adjust or Act

If Manning still believes the play will be effective based on his analysis, he calls for the center to hike him the ball and the offense runs the play. His analysis indicated that the offense should act.

If he doesn’t think the original play called will be effective, Manning will make an adjustment by “audible”-ing out of the play call. He will relay hand signals and words to the offense that indicates a different play to run (such as changing from a running play to a passing play).

(And yes, “Omaha” means something – either as an indicator to the offense or something said to throw off the defense.)

The offensive players will move to different places on the line as necessary to execute the new play call. Manning will re-survey the defense’s adjustments to the new play call, make his own adjustments to how he will execute the play himself (since he will have the ball on the center’s hike). He calls for the center to hike the ball and the offense executes the new play.

In 25 seconds Peyton Manning applies Plan-Do-Study-Adjust to the execution of an offensive play to put the Broncos in the best position to advance the ball and score. Because he and his team have been so effective with execution, he will do that about 70 times on Super Bowl Sunday.

Some additional resources about PDSA:

PDCA and PDSA from Velaction
PDSA with Hoshin Kanri from A Lean Journey
Prefering PDSA over PDCA from Karen Martin/Lean Blog
PDSA Video from IHI at Lean Blog
PDCA and Deming Cycle at iSixSigma
Problem Solving at the Karen Martin Group blog
Developing PDSA Capabilities from Karen Martin at Lean Enterprise Institute

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4 Responses to “How Peyton Manning Demonstrates PDSA”

  1. Mark Graban says:

    There are also other higher-level PDSA cycles:

    1) Plan (everything you described above), Do (actually run the play), Study and Adjust (for future play calls)

    2) Plan (the entire game plan), Do (play the whole game), Study and Adjust

    There’s lots of different PDSA cycles… have a plan, do, and don’t be stubborn enough to ignore new information that’s seen at the line, etc.

  2. I really like that article, though I think that there are multiple control cycles are in place in this example. An inner (Peyton Manning running it) and an outer control loop: Play calling by the OC. Also I do believe that Manning’s football control cycle is more like Plan – Check – Adjust – Act – Analyze. But, well, this “check & adjust” thing went bust right on the first snap from scrimmage Sunday night. Anyhow, I learn from this story, that an experienced, weathered helmsman won’t stick to the original plan, and opts for plan B at his own expense, whenever he deems that it is the right thing to do. So, should we all be more like Peyton and change our play when circumstances advise to do so, even when “the game plan” tells us to stick to some sort of “standard procedure”?

    • Chad Walters says:

      Hi Alexander –

      That’s a good question. I think part of being a good project manager/process owner/quarterback is knowing when to stay the course and when to make the adjustment. Not every quarterback in the NFL or college has the capability of making line changes. Peyton used this strategy to get to the Super Bowl, but there are 30 other NFL quarterbacks whose strategies were not as effective.

      Peyton doesn’t always change the play. He studies a LOT of film and can observe and analyze things on a defense better than probably anybody. So much of what he does comes from experience, knowing how to study, knowing what to see. That’s why PDSA is not really Act or Adjust – it’s both. I don’t agree that it’s merely a Check – obviously there is so much study that goes on at the line and in the film room to readily predict what the defense will do.

    • Mark Graban says:

      There’s a common misperception that standardized work in Lean (or “standard procedure”) means overly rigid and inflexible.

      Many standardized work documents leave room for options, adjustments (audibles?) and judgment — especially in industries where the work isn’t repeated every 60 seconds like a car plant.

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