How My Garden Illustrates Two Key Improvement Tools: Part 2 – The OIC

I wrote about the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) improvement cycle in Part 1 and how it can help develop, execute, and continuously improve any process.

Now in Part 2, I’ll share with you an old friend: the Observation, Insight, and Conclusions exercise, affectionately known as OIC.

I learned this exercise from Michael Pewitt of Stratos, LLC, years ago and used it many times since in workshops, training, and occasionally team settings, or wherever it’s useful to have people reflect on what they’ve heard, learned, or experienced over multi-day sessions. The OIC results provide clarity and help reinforce learnings and can lead to effective behavior change.

The exercise is simple. Typically I ask participants to take five minutes to reflect back on what they’ve learned or experienced during a session, then write down their thoughts under the following three categories. When they’re ready, I ask them to share with the group their top observation, insight, and conclusion and collect their responses on a flipchart. The result is a group snapshot of the individual OICs.

  • Observations – what facts or occurrences you observed or noted
  • Insights – knowledge in the form of perspective, understanding, or deduction; grasping the inner or true nature of something
  • Conclusions – result or outcome of considered thought; decision reached by reasoning

To help you see the OIC in use, I again offer my garden (made quasi-famous in Part 1) as a canvas to illustrate this exercise:


  • Plants at the back of the plot, where there’s less sun, were not happy.
  • Plants overgrew their space and shaded out neighbor plants, resulting in stunted growth.
  • Water is only necessary at the plant’s stem where it comes out of the ground. And city water can get expensive!
  • Weeds grow faster than veggie plants.


  • Nothing will help plants that don’t get the required sunshine.
  • Spacing indicated on plant packets is NOT just a suggestion!
  • Watering broadly wastes water and mostly promotes more weed growth.


  • Expand the backyard garden plot into ares that get more sunshine.
  • Add a front yard veggie bed (remember Victory Gardens?) to provide expansion and separation of varieties.
  • Plant fewer varieties (avoid the eyes-bigger-than-stomach buffet syndrome) and give them space!
  • Install a drip-irrigation system connected to the rain barrels. If barrels are empty, fill them with city water where at least the watering will be concentrated and less wasteful while denying the weeds.
  • Seed per the stated spacing and avoid thinning and wasting seeds.
  • Pull the weeds and get over it…they’re a fact of garden life, and keeping up with them by frequent yanking is the only option (my garden is also pesticide- and herbicide-free).

The pictures below show the garden in full, overcrowded mode and the garden prepared for the second growing season with the experiment in drip irrigation (soaking hoses attached to the rain barrels), plus some recovery work from the overcrowding. Even though I won’t act on all the conclusions until the spring, using the OIC allowed me to organize my thoughts, see the cause and effect of the situation, and make informed decisions for next year’s gardening efforts.